Two years after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent the first images of Pluto, NASA has created two flyby videos by compiling data received from the mission. The videos were released Friday to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the spacecraft flying within 12,550 kilometers of Pluto.
In July 2015, when New Horizons sent the first close-up pictures of Pluto and its moon, NASA said in a statement, it inspired many to wonder “what a flight over the distant worlds’ icy terrain might be like.”
Now, NASA has answered that query using the data provided by New Horizons and elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon.
NASA scientists created flyover movies that “offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself,” NASA said.
The first video begins from the Sputnik Planitia, an expanse of nitrogen ice plain. The flyover shows the cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right.
The video then moves towards the northern part passing through “rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra.”
It then shows the southward part over Pioneer Terra “which exhibits deep and wide pits.” The video concludes over “the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.”
The second flyover video shows Pluto’s largest moon Charon. This video begins over the hemisphere New Horizons saw at its closest approach. It then moves over the deep, wide canyon of Serenity Chasma.
This video offers a thrilling experience of the Dorothy Gale crater before concluding at the “moated mountains” of Clarke Montes.
In order to emphasize the forms of the landscape, the topography in the video is enhanced by a factor of two to three. The surface colors of Pluto and Charon also have been enhanced to bring out detail, NASA said.
While the data released by NASA is two years old, the space organization is still in the process of analyzing them.
“The complexity of the Pluto system — from its geology to its satellite system to its atmosphere— has been beyond our wildest imagination,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Everywhere we turn are new mysteries. These new maps from the landmark exploration of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons mission in 2015 will help unravel these mysteries and are for everyone to enjoy.”
The spacecraft is now 5.7 billion kilometres from Earth and reaching the mysterious Kuiper Belt to reach its next target. The spacecraft will zoom past a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69 in January 2019.
NASA also released new maps of Pluto and Charon, revealing their complex terrain.
Last week, NASA has also released images of Jupiter’s most extraordinary feature — the Great Red Spot, which were taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno Mission during its flyby July 10.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been a subject of curiosity and fascination, having been in existence for more than 350 years. It has been monitored since 1830. According to NASA, the spot measures 10,159 miles in width, making it 1.3 times as wide as Earth. Recently, the Great Red Spot has been observed to be shrinking.