If you’re among the countless space science enthusiasts who wondered what the New Horizons spacecraft’s 2015 flyover of Pluto might have looked like, you’re in luck – NASA has released a new video that gives all of us an up-close look at the surface terrain of the dwarf planet.
The footage, which was created using actual images collected by the probe two years ago, along with data and digital elevation models of both Pluto and the largest of its moons, Charon, offers a “spectacular” new look at “the many unusual features” discovered on the planetary-mass object.
Furthermore, New Horizons scientists noted that the flyover movies show the distant world’s icy terrain at a vantage point even closer than that achieved by the spacecraft itself. The video begins in the mountainous region of southwest Pluto and travels over Sputnik Planitia, a vast lowland of nitrogen ice that makes up the western lobe of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio.
From there, the flyby footage passes over Sputnik’s western border with Cthulhu Macula, which is a dark, craters region located within the nearby highlands. The tour also passes over the rugged hills of Voyager Terra and the pitted Pioneer Terra before ending over Tartarus Dorsa in the east, the agency said.
The Charon flyover starts above the hemisphere viewed by the probe during its closest approach before dipping into the wide, deep canyon of the region informally called Serenity Chasma. Then the view shifts to the north, passing over Dorothy Gale crater and Mordor Macula, the icy region at Charon’s north pole, before turning south to Oz Terra, Vulcan Planum and Clarke Montes.
Agency also unveils new maps as spacecraft’s mission continues
According to Space.com, the videos – which were created using digital mapping and rendering performed at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and which featured topographic relief exaggerated by a factor of two to three times to enhance detail – were released by NASA Friday to celebrate the two-year anniversary of New Horizons’ historic flyby.
NASA also unveiled new maps of Pluto and Charon last week to commemorate the spacecraft’s July 14, 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet and its satellites, which brought the probe to within 7,800 miles (12,550 kilometers) of Pluto’s surface and allowed it to capture the first-ever up-close pics of the system – not to mention a considerable amount of game-changing scientific data.
“The complexity of the Pluto system – from its geology to its satellite system to its atmosphere- has been beyond our wildest imagination,” Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “Everywhere we turn are new mysteries. These new maps… will help unravel these mysteries.”
New Horizons originally launched in January 2006, and after brief flybys of an asteroid and the gas giant Jupiter, it entered hibernation until arriving at the Pluto system in December 2014. The goal of the mission, NASA said, was to answer longstanding questions about the dwarf planet’s surface features, atmospheric composition, temperature and more. Now that it has accomplished that part of its mission, it is currently en route to analyze a Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, and is expected to arrive at its next destination on January 1, 2019.
Image credit: NASA/JPL