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NASA releases spectacular flyby video of Pluto’s craggy mountain ranges and icy plains

Jul 17, 2017
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NASA has released a breathtaking flyby video of the surface of Pluto, giving a close-up view of the dwarf planet’s craggy mountain ranges and icy plains.

The video has been created using data and and digital elevation models captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, during a flyby in July 2015.

“This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia,” NASA explained.

“The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right.

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“The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra – which exhibits deep and wide pits – before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.”

The video is from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself, offering spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered.

The contours of the planet’s surface have been exaggerated by a factor of two to three times to emphasise topography, and the surface colours have also been enhanced to bring out detail.

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NASA created a similar flyby video of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, beginning over the canyon of Serenity Chasma and ending over the relatively flat equatorial plains of Vulcan Planum and the “moated mountains” of Clarke Montes.

The videos were released, along with high-quality maps of Pluto and Charon, to mark the two-year anniversary of the New Horizons flyby.

“The complexity of the Pluto system – from its geology to its satellite system to its atmosphere – has been beyond our wildest imagination,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

“Everywhere we turn are new mysteries. These new maps from the landmark exploration of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons mission in 2015 will help unravel these mysteries and are for everyone to enjoy.”

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