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NASA offers virtual fly-through of massive ice fissure

In October, the space agency discovered a 19-mile crack in Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier. Now, NASA has created a video showing what the giant canyon of ice looks like up close.

A look at the giant crack in the Pine Island Glacier. NASA has created a virtual fly-through that lets the public see the scope of the massive fissure. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

It may look like the scene in "Star Wars" when Luke Skywalker and his comrades are flying through the channel in the Death Star, hoping to blow it up and strike a victory for the Rebellion. But it's not. It may be even cooler than that.

NASA has released a simulation video showing the results of what's called "Operation IceBridge," an attempt by the space agency to do an up-close-and-personal investigation of a mammoth crack in Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier.

According to NASA, in October, scientists in Antarctica found the giant crack in the Pine Island Glacier, "a major ice stream that drains the West Antarctic Ice Sheet." The U.S. space agency said that the crack is 19 miles long, 260 feet wide, and 195 feet deep. And in a matter of months, the crack will cut all the way across the glacier, "and calve a giant iceberg that will cover about 350 square miles." That's almost as big as the state of Rhode Island, notes Talking Points Memo.

Now, using imagery collected from a special Boeing DC-8, NASA has put together a virtual fly-through that takes viewers across the top and almost down into the crack. It's a thrilling ride, save for the fact that it highlights a significant moment of peril in the state of the planet's glaciers.