On July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flight through the Pluto system – providing the first close-up images of Pluto and its moons and collecting other data that has transformed our understanding of these mysterious worlds on the solar system's outer frontier.
Scientists are still analyzing and uncovering data that New Horizons recorded and sent home after the encounter. On the two-year anniversary of the flyby, the team is unveiling a set of detailed, high-quality global maps of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
"The complexity of the Pluto system — from its geology to its satellite system to its atmosphere— has been beyond our wildest imagination," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Everywhere we turn are new mysteries. These new maps from the landmark exploration of Pluto by NASA's New Horizons mission in 2015 will help unravel these mysteries and are for everyone to enjoy."
The new maps include global mosaics of Pluto and Charon, assembled from nearly all of the highest-resolution images obtained by New Horizons' Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). These mosaics are the most detailed and comprehensive global views yet of the Pluto and Charon surfaces using New Horizons data.
The new collection also includes topography maps of the hemispheres of Pluto and Charon visible to New Horizons during the spacecraft's closest approach. The topography is derived from digital stereo-image mapping tools that measure the parallax – or the difference in the apparent relative positions – of features on the surface obtained at different viewing angles during the encounter. Scientists use these parallax displacements of high and low terrain to estimate landform heights.
Both the new Pluto and the new Charon global mosaics have been overlain with transparent, colorized topography data wherever on their surfaces stereo data is available.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, manages the New Horizons mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), is the principal investigator and leads the mission; SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft.