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By Ellie Zolfagharifard For Dailymail.com
Published: 18:43 GMT, 21 September 2015 | Updated: 20:12 GMT, 21 September 2015
Last week, Nasa released stunning new images of Pluto majestic mountains, frozen nitrogen rivers and low-lying hazes.
Now, the space agency has combined these panoramas to create a spectacular flyover of the dwarf planet, revealing its icy terrain in incredible detail.
The animation begins just above the mountains dubbed Norgay Montes at a height of about 120 miles (200 km).
It then takes the viewer north over Sputnik Planum, seen as the bright area to the left of the video, and Cthulhu Regio, which is the dark area to the right.
The latest images downloaded from Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft were stitched together and rendered on a sphere to make this flyover
While Sputnik Planum is smooth at this resolution, it’s in contrast to Cthulhu Regio which has large impact crater.
According to Nasa, the differences in brightness are some of the largest natural brightness variations of any object in the solar system.
The altitude of the viewer rises to a height of about 150 miles (240km) and turns to look east. From this point, the viewer moves with Pluto’s north pole to the left.
As the animation continues, the flight path rises to more than 1,500 miles (2,500km) with the final view of most of the disk that New Horizons saw on July 14.
'New Horizons has returned to Earth dozens of images at up to 400 meters per pixel (m/px) of the flyby hemisphere, and this has given scientists and the public an unprecedented view of this mysterious world,' said Stuart Robbins, who created the animation.
The animation takes the viewer over Sputnik Planum, seen as the bright area to the left, and Cthulhu Regio, which is the dark area to the right. While Sputnik Planum is smooth at this pixel scale, it’s in contrast to Cthulhu Regio which has many large impact craters. The differences in brightness are some of the largest natural brightness variations of any object in the solar system
Alien life may be lurking beneath Pluto's crust, according to physicist Brian Cox.
His comments come after the historic flyby of the dwarf planet by New Horizons, which uncovered huge glaciers and mountains made of water ice.
These features hint at the possibility of subterranean seas on the dwarf planet warm enough for organic chemistry to thrive, said Cox.
The probe 'showed you that there may well be a subsurface ocean on Pluto,' Cox told The Times. '[This] means - if our understanding of life on Earth is even slightly correct - that you could have living things there.'
'I primarily use these images to map craters across the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, to understand the population of impactors from the Kuiper Belt striking Pluto and Charon.
'While this is my research focus, another interest of mine is figuring out how to make visualisations that convey some of the sheer beauty and power of the features New Horizons is revealing.'
The animation was created using high-resolution images released by New Horizons on Friday.
Among the highlights is an incredible panorama showing a sunset on the icy world, taken by New Horizons probe just 15 minutes after it flew by the Pluto system in July.
The panorama of Pluto's crescent offers an oblique look across Plutonian landscapes in a scene measuring 780 miles (1,250km) across.
'This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,' said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.
'But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto's atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.'
Owing to its backlighting, the image also reveals new details of hazes throughout Pluto's tenuous but extended nitrogen atmosphere.
It shows more than a dozen thin haze layers extending from near the ground to at least 60 miles (100km) above the surface.
The panorama also reveals at least one bank of fog-like, low-lying haze illuminated by the setting sun against Pluto's dark side, raked by shadows from nearby mountains.
The animation begins just above the mountains dubbed Norgay Montes region at a height of about 120 miles (left). As the animation continues, the flight path rises to more than 1,500 miles (2,500km)
Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500m) high
The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000km) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across
'In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth,' said Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Combined with other recently downloaded pictures, scientists say they now have evidence for a remarkably Earth-like 'hydrological' cycle on Pluto – one that involves soft and exotic ices, including nitrogen, rather than water ice.
Bright areas east of the vast icy plain informally named Sputnik Planum appear to have been blanketed by these ices, which may have evaporated from the surface of Sputnik and then been redeposited to the east.
The new Ralph imager panorama also reveals glaciers flowing back into Sputnik Planum from this blanketed region; these features are similar to the frozen streams on the margins of ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.
'We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system,' said Alan Howard, a member of the mission's Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
'Driven by dim sunlight, this would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow.'
'Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard,' added Stern, 'and no one predicted it.'
The latest images follow a set unveiled last week, which highlighted a 'bewildering variety of surface features' that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity.
Valley Glaciers on Pluto: Ice that appears to have accumulated on the uplands on the right side of these 390-mile (630km) wide images is draining from Pluto???s mountains onto the informally named Sputnik Planum through the 2- to 5-mile (3- to 8km) wide valleys indicated by the red arrows. The flow front of the ice moving is outlined by the blue arrows. Scroll left to see the intricate flow lines of the glaciers
Pluto’s ‘heart’: Sputnik Planum is the name of the smooth, light-bulb shaped region on the left of this composite of several New Horizons images of Pluto. The white upland region to the right may be coated by nitrogen ice that has been transported through the atmosphere from the surface of Sputnik Planum, and deposited on these uplands. The box shows the location of the glacier seen in the new images
In this small section of the larger crescent image of Pluto, the setting sun illuminates a fog or near-surface haze, which is cut by the parallel shadows of many local hills and small mountains. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers), and the width of the image is 115 miles (185km)
'If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that's what is actually there,' said Stern at the time.
New Horizons began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend.
Images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto's surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 metres per pixel.
'The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,' said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at Nasa's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
'The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.'
New images also show the most heavily cratered, and oldest, terrain yet seen by New Horizons on Pluto next to the youngest, most crater-free icy plains.
There might even be a field of dark wind-blown dunes, among other possibilities.
'Seeing dunes on Pluto - if that is what they are - would be completely wild, because Pluto's atmosphere today is so thin,' said William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. 'Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven't figured out is at work. It's a head-scratcher.'
This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA?s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto's equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across.
This 220-mile (350-kilometer) wide view of Pluto from Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet. The image includes dark, ancient heavily cratered terrain; bright, smooth geologically young terrain; assembled masses of mountains; and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes
Left, the image is dominated by the informally-named icy plain Sputnik Planum, the smooth, bright region across the center. On the right, In the centre of this 300-mile (470-kilometer) wide image of Pluto from NASAs New Horizons spacecraft is a large region of jumbled, broken terrain on the northwestern edge of the vast, icy plain informally called Sputnik Planum, to the right.
Discoveries being made from the new imagery are not limited to Pluto's surface.
Better images of Pluto's moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra will be released Friday at the raw images site for New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), revealing that each moon is unique and that big moon Charon's geological past was a tortured one.
Images returned in the past days have also revealed that Pluto's global atmospheric haze has many more layers than scientists realised, and that the haze actually creates a twilight effect that softly illuminates nightside terrain near sunset, making them visible to the cameras aboard New Horizons.
'This bonus twilight view is a wonderful gift that Pluto has handed to us,' said John Spencer, a GGI deputy lead from SwRI.
'Now we can study geology in terrain that we never expected to see.'
The New Horizons spacecraft is now more than 3 billion miles (about 5 billion kilometers) from Earth, and more than 43 million miles (69 million kilometers) beyond Pluto.
The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.
Earlier this month Nasa revealed a new animation of New Horizon's mission to Pluto lets you ride shotgun with the probe as it passes the dwarf planet.
New Horizons completed its near decade-long journey to Pluto in July, with a historic flyby that captures the best images ever seen of the icy world.
Nasa has now collected these images into a mesmerising 23-second video, showing the flyby from the spacecraft's point of view.
During its closest approach, the spacecraft came to within 7,800 miles (12,500km) of Pluto's icy surface, travelling at 30,800 mph (49,600 km/h).
The video includes a pass showing the atmospheric glow of Pluto lit by the sun and a look at Charon, Pluto's largest moon.
'This animation, made with real images taken by New Horizons, begins with Pluto flying in for its close-up on July 14,' Nasa writes on the video description.
This image of Pluto's largest moon Charon, taken by NASA?s New Horizons spacecraft 10 hours before its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 290,000 miles (470,000km), is a recently downlinked, much higher quality version of a Charon image released on July 15.
Two different versions of an image of Pluto?s haze layers, taken by New Horizons as it looked back at Pluto's dark side nearly 16 hours after close approach, from a distance of 480,000 miles (770,000 kilometers), at a phase angle of 166 degrees.
The Kuiper Belt is a freezing ring of debris orbiting more than 4 billion miles from the sun.
It is thought to be the remains of the violent and chaotic collisions that led to the formation of the planets.
There are an estimated 33,000 objects more than 60 metres across in the belt and three dwarf planets.
Astronomer Mike Brown, from Caltech in Pasadena California, has likened the Kuiper belt to the 'blood splatter' left behind by the formation of the solar system.
Although now relatively calm and stable, it is likely to be a dangerous place for New Horizons as it may be filled with unseen debris and space rocks.
'We then pass behind Pluto and see the atmosphere glow in sunlight before the sun passes behind Charon.
The animation ends with a wide view of Pluto and Charon looking back on each body as thin crescents as New Horizons makes its departure.
The shot was taken just seven hours after the probe's closest approach and shows peculiar layers of haze in the dwarf planet's atmosphere.
'This is our equivalent on New Horizons of the Apollo 11 Earthrise,' said New Horizons' Alan Stern, adding that the image confirms the probe had succeeded in its mission.
Nasa recently selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system.
It will become the first spacecraft to visit the icy blocks encircling our solar system in a ring of debris called the Kuiper Belt.
It will become the first spacecraft to visit the icy blocks encircling our solar system in a ring of debris called the Kuiper Belt.
The fridge sized craft will head to a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.
Speaking before the spacecraft's launch in 2006, Professor Stern described New Horizons as an 'almost timeless object' that would not only outlast the pyramids but also the mountain ranges of the Earth.
'Even as the New Horizon's spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer,' said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the Nasa Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.
This animation shows how our view of Pluto has changed from its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 through the 1990s and the latest images from the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015
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