On The Atlantic, Robison Meyer looks at the work behind creating Ralph, one of the three cameras on NASA's New Horizons probe. Currently snapping high-resolution photos of Pluto, the camera was made entirely out of aluminium so that it would survive nine years in space, while being bombarded by cosmic rays, at ridiculously cold temperatures.
Even the camera’s mirrors were made out of aluminum. (To turn dull aluminum into mirrors, Ball sharpened it with diamonds.) The lens was one of the few pieces of the camera that could be safely made out of glass.
Another constraint on the mission was that Ralph had to take photos using only the sun’s dim light that reaches Pluto. During its flyby, New Horizons will photograph the side of Pluto that’s turned away from the sun. This side is lit solely by the sun’s light reflecting off Charon. This is like taking a photo using just the light from a “quarter moon” on Earth, a lead optical engineer for the mission told me in an email.
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