While a manned mission to Mars is looking more and more likely, it'll probably be some time before we can rocket off to Pluto and land on its icy surface. But, thanks to a new NASA video, you can get some sense of what a trip to the dwarf planet would feel like – including an almost-landing on its surface near the big heart-shaped feature now known as Tombaugh Regio.
To make the video, scientists involved in the New Horizons project – the spacecraft that whizzed past Pluto last July – stitched together over 100 images from the mission into a progression that attempts to simulate what a trip to the outer reaches of our solar system would feel like.
"Just over a year ago, Pluto was just a dot in the distance," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "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."
While that's a bit of an exaggeration (especially compared to what a CGI artist could do with the material), what the film really does is show off the amazing resolution of the images sent back by New Horizons. When the journey in the video is complete, you're actually taking in about 40 miles (64 km) of the Plutonian surface, which is pretty impressive considering that the camera aboard the plucky spacecraft was hurtling through space for about nine years before it start snapping.
While New Horizons' primary mission of exploring the Pluto system is now over, the craft is still speeding through space. "As part of an extended mission, pending NASA approval, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine another of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune's orbit," says the space agency.
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