NASA's New Horizons made history when it flew through the Pluto system in 2015. Now, the space agency is offering a look into what it would have been like had the spacecraft landed on the dwarf planet.
In a video posted Jan. 20, NASA created a movie that allowed viewers to feel as if they were diving into Pluto.
To do this, mission scientists interpolated some of the black and white images captured by New Horizons based on what is their best idea of what the planet looks like. Low-resolution color from the spacecraft's Ralph / Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera was then laid over the frames to give the best available color simulation of the view you'd have if you were descending to Pluto from a high altitude.
Pluto Global Color Map
On the same day, NASA released a new, detailed global mosaic color map for Pluto based on three color filter images captured by the Ralph camera during New Horizon's close flyby to the planet. The mosaic features color patterns extending beyond the hemisphere toward New Horizons at the spacecraft's closest approach, as well as the Sputnik Planitia glacier, which shows the left half of Pluto's "heart" in the center.
New Horizons Mission
It took New Horizons 9.5 years and over 3 billion miles to get to the Pluto system, getting as close as 7,800 miles of the planet on July 14, 2015. As the spacecraft was fitted with telescopic cameras powerful enough to spot features smaller in size than a football field, it was able to capture and send back hundreds of images of Pluto and its moons, many showing how fascinating and dynamic their surfaces are.
On Oct. 25, the last set of data from New Horizons was downloaded at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory after passing through the NASA Deep Space Network station located in Canberra, Australia. With that, the spacecraft had sent a total of over 50 gigabits of data over the course of 15 months.
"The Pluto system data that New Horizons collected has amazed us over and over again with the beauty and complexity of Pluto and its system of moons," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons.
As part of an extended mission, there are plans to have New Horizons head farther into the Kuiper Belt to take a look at what's out there billions of miles beyond Neptune. Where it exactly goes until 2020 will depend on approval from NASA. The United States is the first country to reach every planet between Mercury and Neptune via a space probe, and New Horizons is allowing the nation to complete its initial reconnaissance of the solar system.
Aside from the Ralph camera that is a visible and infrared light imager, science payloads aboard the New Horizons spacecraft include: the Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, REX (Radio Science EXperiment) passive radiometer, LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera, SWAP (Solar Wind Around Pluto) wind and plasma spectrometer, PEPSSI (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) energetic particle spectrometer, and VBSDC (Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter) for measuring space dust.