What would it look like to approach Pluto for a landing? Perhaps some day in the future a robotic mission will do exactly that and we’ll know for sure, but for now we have to use our imaginations…luckily we do have some incredible images of Pluto to help with the details, thanks to NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft!
Using images and data acquired by New Horizons during its historic close pass by Pluto on July 14, 2015, researchers have assembled a video simulating an approach to Pluto’s surface, centering in on a “landing site” along the edge of Sputnik Planum: the heart-shaped “sea” of nitrogen ice cells.
Watch the video below:
To create a movie that makes viewers feel as if they’re diving into Pluto, mission scientists had to interpolate some of the panchromatic (black and white) frames based on what they know Pluto looks like to make it as smooth and seamless as possible. Low-resolution color from the Ralph color camera aboard New Horizons was then draped over the frames to give the best available, actual color simulation of what it would look like to descend from high altitude to Pluto’s surface. (Source)
While almost all of Pluto has turned out to be a geological surprise for planetary scientists Sputnik Planum was the biggest. It’s very likely that any future missions to the distant planet would certainly target that region.
“Sputnik Planum is one of the most amazing geological discoveries in 50-plus years of planetary exploration…that this vast area—bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined – is created by current day ice convection is among the most spectacular of the New Horizons mission,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.