Pluto, formerly the ninth planet, was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, according to NASA. Although it was commonly known as the smallest planet in the solar system for over seven decades, it was reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006, per BBC News. It is now one of five recognized dwarf planets, with the other four being Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea.
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Last November, the Inquisitr reported that a slushy ocean might exist beneath Pluto’s surface. Other places in the solar system that are believed to house subsurface oceans include Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Interest in Pluto seems to have been renewed as of late, and NASA has recently released a new, in-color video that shows how landing on the distant dwarf planet might actually look. According to NASA, the imagined landing was put together by using over “100 images taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft,” which were collected over a six-week period. In a statement from NASA on the video, it is explained that scientists worked carefully to give viewers a realistic experience.
“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.”
Obviously, as most already know, Pluto is a very long way away from Earth. NASA explains how after 3 billion miles and nearly a decade of traveling through space, the New Horizons spacecraft finally flew past Pluto during the summer of 2015. According to Space.com, the planets travel around the sun in what as known as an “elliptical orbit” as opposed to “perfect circles,” meaning that the distance between the planets is always changing. Per Space.com, Pluto is “4.67 billion miles” from Earth at its furthest and “2.66 billion miles” at its closest.
Occasionally, Pluto’s orbit actually puts the dwarf planet closer to the sun than the gas giant Neptune, according to Space.com. Saturn’s moon Titan currently remains the most distant object that mankind has been able to put a lander on, per Universe Today.
Per NASA, the New Horizons spacecraft was equipped with “telescopic cameras” that were able to detect “features smaller than a football field,” enabling it to take stunning photos of Pluto. Now that it has flown past the dwarf planet Pluto, the next target for New Horizons is 2014 MU69.
Latest photos of Pluto and it’s moon Charon sent back from New Horizons pic.twitter.com/L8LgpudOsg
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Popular Science describes 2014 MU69 as “an icy rock” that “orbits the sun a billion miles past Pluto.” According to Popular Science, New Horizons is currently on pace to do a flyby of the mysterious Kuiper Belt object on December 31, 2018, but by the time that scientists are able to confirm it has reached its destination, it will be New Year’s Day of 2019.
Pluto and Charon compared to Earth and the Moon. pic.twitter.com/GLjErzjG0n
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In the video, Pluto’s moon Charon, the largest of its five satellites, is shown orbiting the dwarf planet as well. According to Space.com, Charon’s unusually large size makes it nearly “half the size of Pluto.” In February of last year, the Inquisitr also reported that Charon may have once had an ancient ocean, which was another finding by New Horizons. Pluto’s other four moons are named Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Space notes that the New Horizons mission did not discover any new satellites for Pluto during its visit.
In the video released by NASA, Pluto and Charon are first seen as far away and dot-like, but the two objects gradually become closer. In the end, the viewer gets to experience “landing” on “Sputnik Planitia.” NASA explains that “Sputnik Planitia” is an “informal name” for a “fascinating icy plains region,” which is part of what is known Pluto’s heart area.
Although Pluto may no longer be recognized as the ninth planet, many scientists and researchers continue to look for a new “Planet 9,” which is thought to be massive in size.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]