Earthlings waited nearly ten years for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to travel three billion miles to Pluto and its system of four small moons. Now, NASA has released an animation that lets you relive this action in under 30 seconds.
The animation simulates the view from New Horizons as it passes through the system. Pluto's largest and closest moon, Charon, is easy to spot — while one of the smaller moons, Nix, is easy to miss in the upper right-hand side. As New Horizons gets closer, it sees the now famous heart-shaped area dubbed Tombaugh Regio.
Launched in January 2006, New Horizons' defining moment didn't come until this past summer. To space exploration enthusiasts, the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto represented "the end of a beginning." Pluto is the most distant major object in our solar system – though not the most distant planet, since it was famously and some would argue, cruelly, demoted to dwarf planet in '06 – and now humans have at last charted this final unknown territory.
The flyby itself was relatively brief. New Horizons was traveling at a speed of over 36,000 miles per hour as it approached Pluto, so the climax of the mission lasted just days.
This isn't the end of the New Horizons mission, however. Beyond Pluto lies the Kuiper belt — a largely unexplored territory full of asteroids and other remnants from the formation of our solar system.