New glimpses of Pluto

Advancements in technology now afford scientists greater opportunities to explore space. In 2006, New Horizons spacecraft was launched on a mission to take images of Pluto. Flyover images from the spacecraft reveal a new perspective on Pluto.


was launched way back in 2006.

It went by Jupiter to get a boost to fly out to Pluto, took another 9 years or so to get to Pluto, so but 2 years ago, on July 14, 2015, it flew by Pluto and got incredible pictures, like opened up Pluto, you know, from what it was, which was a blob even from Hubble Space Telescope.

It was just a blob, and, you know, imaged it as a whole new world for us to see.

Before we see the new Pluto flyover, Dr. Gladstone shows us the path the video will take us on by using this globe of our distant neighbor.

This is a globe of Pluto produced by if you want to give them credit, and it's got the nominal names of different features on Pluto.

So here's the big glacier called Sputnik Planitia, and all that's nitrogen frost here.

The darker spots are different materials, but you can see a lot of the contrast, and this was the side that flew past.

So we flew by really quickly, you know, in hours.

Like, one day we had flown from one side to the other and taken all these pictures that make up this globe, and now they've made this digital elevation model, so they know the height of a lot of the regions we looked at.

So in those flyover movies, there's one of Charon as well, but the one of Pluto starts out down here in this region sort of to the southwest of Sputnik Planitia.

There's some mountains down there.

There's some volcanoes and some cryovolcanoes down here, and they fly over there.

It starts out dark, and then they fly up along this boundary just to the west of Sputnik Planitia, where there's a lot of mountains.

Then they fly up here past what's called Voyager Terra, and then they turn around and come back south again past Pioneer Terra, and then they fly over -- they fly over over here in this region of the Bladed Terrain, which is eroding methane ice called Tartarus... I think it's Tartarus Dorsa, right over here.

So that's the flyover for Pluto.

Dr. Gladstone narrates the Pluto flyover for us from a perspective never seen by human eyes until now.

So this is the Pluto flyover movie, and we start near the night side, and we're flying north roughly near the southwest of the Sputnik Planitia, and in this region, there are some cryovolcanoes that erupt and drop... You know, there's a whole bunch of relief there, so it's fun to look at on the digital elevation model here, and I mention again maybe that the relief here is about two to three times what it really is just so you can see it more strongly.

Now we're flying up the western boundary of Sputnik Planitia, where there's all this white area to the right and what's called Cthulhu Macula on the left, where it's all dark red, and there's a lot of craters and mountains along that edge, and so it shows up well in the relief map.

And now we're flying past... Here's a little lake that's drying out, it looks like, but up to the northwest corner of Sputnik Planitia past a bunch of mountains that ring Sputnik Planitia, but it's a big basin, basically.

So there's... The edges are mountainous.

Now we're up into the Voyager Terra, which is getting up towards the north pole of Pluto.

We don't go quite up that far, but you can see a lot of places where there's evidence of a crater that's almost eroded away by now, but there's a lot of nitrogen ice and methane ice that flows back and forth every year on Pluto, which is 248 Earth years.

Now we're flying back south again, and we're looking at this strange region called Tartarus Dorsa, which are made up of blades of methane ice that are being eroded away, and it's just a weird place, but that's it.

What's next for the spacecraft?

An encounter with a much further away Kuiper belt object called MU69 on New Year's Day 2019.

So has flown by Pluto, and it's going to fly by MU69 pretty soon, and then it's going to leave the solar system entirely, and it'll be the fifth of... You know, four other spacecraft have left the solar system, and it'll be the fifth.

There's not many more planned after that, but its legacy really opened up the outer solar system.

So Pluto and the Kuiper belt, all that area, was totally unexplored except by ground-based telescopes, which don't really tell you a whole lot about that region.

But will be the first one to go there.

Hopefully, we'll go back, and we'll get better pictures and see the part of Pluto that we didn't see on this flyby because the flyby happened fairly quickly, but to leave movies such as, you know, the flyover movies, shows you what, you know, the capability of Even though it went by really quick, got all this great data, and we're still analyzing it after 2 years.

Hopefully MU69 will give a similar haul of data about the Kuiper belt, and that is, you know, unrepeatable.

This is the only time you get to do that, so this is a big thing to go out and explore a place for the first time and see what it's like up close.