Back in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft transmitted to Earth the first intimate images of Pluto and its enthralling moons, inciting awe over the former planet located 4.67 billion miles away from us.
Now, scientists in the mission created flyover animation by draping New Horizons mission data over a digital elevation model of Pluto, showing what it could be like visiting Pluto while on board a spacecraft.
According to a NASA statement, the dramatic flyover starts over Pluto’s highlands and proceeds to the southwest of nitrogen icy plain Sputnik Planitia. From witnessing the plain’s western margin, viewers are treated to sights in the north, past the Voyager Terra’s rugged highlands and southward over the deeply and widely pitted Pioneer Terra. The tour ends over Tartarus Dorsa and its bladed landscape.
Data from the flyby of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was also given the same treatment, giving viewers a look at features such as the Dorothy Gale crater, the equatorial plains of Vulcan Planum, and Clarke Montes’ “moated mountains.”
“The topographic relief is exaggerated by a factor of two to three times in these movies to emphasize topography; the surface colors of Pluto and Charon also have been enhanced to bring out detail,” the statement noted, showing that both Pluto and its moon would not look exactly as such if one were flying over them in a space vehicle.
The digital mapping along with rendering were done by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
New Pluto, Charon Maps For Flyby Anniversary
To celebrate the Pluto flyby’s second anniversary, the team also released two detailed global maps of the dwarf planet and Charon. The resulting data offers the public more information on the mountains, volcanoes, as well as canyons of the celestial wonders.
“The complexity of the Pluto system — from its geology to its satellite system to its atmosphere — has been beyond our wildest imagination,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, adding that the new maps will help further unravel mysteries around Pluto.
The global mosaics were made possible by a technique known as parallax, which allowed researchers to determine the elevation or depth of the features imaged by the New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), Space.com reported.
Launched on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons conducted a six-month flyby of Pluto in summer 2015, making the closest approach on July 14 of the same year. In October last year, the team received the last part of the data on the historic flyby.