This month celebrates the one year anniversary of New Horizons’ visit to Pluto, everyone’s favorite dwarf planet. Launched back in 2006, New Horizons was our first opportunity to get up close and personal with Pluto, and even though the flyby was a brief one, the pictures and measurements New Horizons was able to capture are awe-inspiring. To celebrate the one year anniversary of the flyby, NASA is imagining what it would be like to land on the surface of Pluto with a new video that strings together more than 100 images from the New Horizons mission.
Obviously, New Horizons didn’t land on Pluto, but it did take some up-close shots of the surface as it was flying by. The images start with New Horizons still quite a distance from Pluto, as we can see it and its largest moon, Charon, orbiting as the spacecraft makes its approach. As we get closer to Pluto, Charon disappears entirely and the camera zooms in on the icy surface of the planet, eventually giving us a view of the Sputnik Planum from about 10 miles up.
It’s a cool video to be sure, and it offers us a look at Pluto that wasn’t possible before last year. Perhaps the coolest part about the whole thing is that New Horizons never got closer than 7,800 miles to Pluto, yet we get to see an image of the surface as if it were only 10 miles up. This is thanks to the telescopic camera New Horizons is equipped with, which allows NASA to see details on the surface that are smaller than the size of a football field.
Even though New Horizons has completed its stated mission, NASA isn’t done with the probe yet. Now it’s heading off deeper into the Kupier Belt to study another celestial body. It won’t reach its new destination until 2019, but NASA scientists will still have their hands full studying the information from Pluto for some time to come, especially considering that New Horizons won’t be finished transmitting the data it collected until later this year.