We’re fast approaching the one-year anniversary of New Horizons close encounter with Pluto. On July 14, 2015 – New Horizons soared past the icy world at a distance of just 7,800 miles away.
The spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) captured hundreds of stunning images. Today, NASA released a video New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern called “magnetic.”
You’re looking at a mosaic strip that starts above the smooth plains of Sputnik Planum and stretches nearly the entire length of the encounter hemisphere. From the cratered lands in the north, down through the icy mountains of Pluto and across the nitrogen ice plains of Sputnik Planum.
New Horizons’ LORRI captured the mosaic right before the close encounter at a distance of 9,850 miles. At its widest, the mosaic measures 55 miles across and narrows to 45 miles at the southernmost point. The incredible video shows one small piece of Pluto’s surface at a resolution of 260 feet per pixel.
Pluto continues to stun the science community and astronomy fans alike. Stern says it best. “It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto and get high-resolution images like these across the surface.”
Pluto’s story doesn’t end here
These images might be the most detailed images we see for decades, but scientists aren’t done with Pluto yet. New Horizons continues to beam back precious data from its close encounter. And it’s doing it right now! You can keep tabs of New Horizons and many other space missions at NASA’s Deep Space Network.
The antenna at Canberra, Australia is receiving data from New Horizons at a blistering 4.21 kb/s. Yep, that’s kilobytes in case you were wondering why it’s taking so long for New Horizons to send its data back.
The New Horizons team expects data downlinking to wrap up in October or November. And scientists will pour over it for years to come to understand the unexpected intricacies of Pluto’s surface. What forces created Pluto’s icy mountains? How exactly does resurfacing work on Pluto? What can we learn from Pluto’s moons? We’ve seen a handful of studies already, but expect dozens more citing New Horizons data.
New Horizons continues its trek into the Kuiper Belt. If it’s mission extension is approved (it better be!), New Horizons will meet up with Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. The image below teases the kind of resolution we can expect from that encounter.