It was two years ago today that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft became the first-ever probe to visit Pluto in the cold, outer fringes of the Solar System. To help celebrate the occasion, NASA has posted a new video of the epic flyby, when the spacecraft soared over the tall mountains and vast icy plains of this small but active world.
The video shows what it would have been like to observe Pluto from onboard New Horizons, featuring a landscape that in some ways is utterly alien and yet still familiar in other ways. Long thought to probably be a cold, inert place, Pluto was revealed to be surprisingly active, with vast, slow-moving glaciers of nitrogen ice and tall mountains of solid water ice, as well as methane ice in places. Unusual pits cover parts of the icy plains and elsewhere, huge “blades” of ice stick out from the surface, reaching 500 meters tall (similar to Penitentes on Earth but much larger). There is also evidence for once-flowing rivers of nitrogen and possible current cryovolcanoes (ice volcanoes). There may also be a liquid water ocean still residing deep below the surface. When backlit by the Sun, Pluto is seen to have a beautiful bluish atmosphere with haze and possible clouds.
Read the rest of my article on AmericaSpace.