Our epic journey to Pluto has been filled with cosmic coincidences. Crossing Neptune’s orbit 25 years to the day after Voyager 2. Zipping by Pluto 50 years on the nose after our first Mars encounter. But my favorite serendipitous fact of all has to do with how we’ve powered the entire New Horizons mission—using none…
The physicists who invented the nuclear bomb worked out of Los Alamos in New Mexico, but the people who did the dirty work of making the bombs were in Hanford, Washington. Throughout the Cold War, Hanford churned out plutonium for our nuclear arsenal. It was also, conveniently, a place to experiment with radiation.
A few years ago, the first lump of plutonium scientists ever made on Earth was removed from display in Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science and then forgotten about. Berkeley physicists think they've finally found it again–thankfully before it got thrown out as radioactive waste.
Based on the fact that several of Fukushima's reactors are now believed to have melted down, Japan's nuclear safety agency is revising their figures on the amount of radiation spewed at the start of the crisis. By over 100%.
Plutonium has been discovered for the first time outside Fukushima's reactor buildings. The radioactive material was found in the soil at five points of the nuclear plant.