The New Horizons spacecraft traveled for more than 9 years and 3 billion miles (5 billion km) to reach the dwarf planet Pluto. This new video from NASA – released on July 14, 2016, the one-year anniversary of New Horizons’ closest point to Pluto – lets you imagine closing in on Pluto and getting to within 10 miles (16 km) of its surface.
NASA created the video using more than 100 images of Pluto acquired over six weeks last year by New Horizons, which swept closest to the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. It starts with a relatively distant view of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, and then pulls you in, closer and closer, to the beautiful heart-shaped Sputnik Planum region on Pluto, an icy plain.
Alan Stern, the principal scientist of the New Horizons mission, said in a statement about the new video:
This video shows what it would be like to ride aboard an approaching spacecraft and see Pluto grow to become a world, and then to swoop down over its spectacular terrains as if we were approaching some future landing.
Constantine Tsang, a New Horizons scientist at SwRI who worked with Stern to create the movie:
The challenge in creating this movie is to make it feel like you’re diving into Pluto. We had to interpolate some of the frames based on what we know Pluto looks like to make it as smooth and seamless as possible.
It’s certainly fun to see this and think what it would feel like to approach a landing on Pluto!
New Horizons came within 7,800 miles (12,500 km) of Pluto’s surface last July. NASA announced on July 1, by the way, that the New Horizons spacecraft has received the nod to fly onward to an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69.
This object had not even been discovered when New Horizons was launched in 2006.
Bottom line: New video from NASA shows what it would be like to approach a landing on Pluto.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.