On the occasion of the second anniversary of the New Horizons space probe’s Pluto flyby, NASA has published a map of the dwarf planet and its largest moon, Charon. The American Space Agency has also created two videos that partially reproduce that flight concentrating one on Pluto and one on Charon. They provide a truly unique perspective, giving the impression of being on board a spaceship flying by those celestial bodies.
In recent years, NASA has made great progress in mapping some planets as well as dwarf planets and even the giant asteroid Vesta. Thanks to the survey work of various space probes and then the one of many people, our knowledge of the solar system has increased considerably. In the case of New Horizons, there was a flyby at a very high speed and therefore of limited duration with some consequent limits.
In the end, only a part of the surface of Pluto and Caron was surveyed at high resolution. In some areas it was night and they’re indicated in black in the maps because at that distance from the Sun night is really dark. For some areas, indicated in gray, data were used that were detected from a higher distance during preliminary tests that started providing the first images verifying that the instruments were working well. Their resolution is much lower than that of the pictures captured during the flyby but that’s the best that could be done.
The colored areas in the image are those in which the resolution is 300 meters per pixel in the largest version, assembled from the best images captured by the New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) instruments during its flyby. Using those data along with various computer models, it was also possible to create videos that give an idea of how that flight went.
The topographic relief of Pluto and Charon is exaggerated in the videos, between two and three times the actual ones, to emphasize them. The colors were also enhanced to allow to better appreciate the topographic details on the two celestial bodies’ surface. That’s because the goal was to make the people who watch those videos feel like seeing Pluto and Charon more than reproducing them faithfully.
In spite of the time constraints determined by a very-high speed flyby, the New Horizons space probe collected such a wealth of data that it took over a year to send them all to the mission control center on Earth. Soon it was evident that there was a variety existing on Pluto’s surface, which turned out to be a wonderful little world, and this is even clearer in the overall vision that NASA scientists could eventually offer.