A year ago, our understanding of a former planet was changed forever. Pluto wasn’t just a drab rock in the furthest reaches of the solar system. NASA’s New Horizons revealed stunning glacial flows, snow-capped mountains and Pluto’s famous heart.
To celebrate the one-year anniversary, NASA released a video showing us ‘land’ on Pluto.
“Just over a year ago, Pluto was just a dot in the distance,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “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.”
At its closest, New Horizons was just 7,800 miles away from Pluto. The powerful cameras aboard the spacecraft could make out features smaller than a football field. Now imagine what we’re going to see from New Horizons cousin Juno. Juno is the second spacecraft under the New Frontiers program (New Horizons was the first). Not only is its target (Jupiter) much larger, it will orbit within just 2,700 miles at its closest point. The images later this year promise to be stunning.
A year later, and New Horizons is almost 300 million miles past Pluto. Despite the vast distances, the spacecraft continues to downlink data. It’s just about past the 80% mark and should wrap up its downlink by October.
“Our entire team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt—something many of us had worked to achieve since the 1990s,” said Stern. “The data that New Horizons sent back about Pluto and its system of moons has revolutionized planetary science and inspired people of all ages across the world about space exploration. It’s been a real privilege to be able to do that, for which I’ll be forever indebted to our team and our nation.”
Stern and his team aren’t done yet. Their mission extension was formally approved earlier this month. New Horizons has one more target to explore – 2014 MU69. NASA will start off 2019 with a Kuiper Belt Object encounter. Who knows what secrets scientists will uncover from this small, icy rock.
Pluto showed us that even the distant reaches of our solar system are full of surprises. MU69 won’t disappoint.