Soaring over Pluto
In July 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft sent home the first close-up pictures of Pluto and its moons. Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, mission scientists created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system -- from a vantage point even closer than a ride on New Horizons itself.
The dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. (Note that all feature names in the Pluto system are informal.) 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 planitia seen on the right. 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 topographic relief is exaggerated by a factor of 2 to 3 in these movies to emphasize topography; the surface colors have also been enhanced to bring out detail. Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.