Buzz Pluto's tall peaks and frozen plains in NASA flyby video

NASA's New Horizons has sent back remarkable new images of the distant dwarf planet, but nothing captures the feel of Pluto quite like this new video.

Eric Mack
Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
2 min read

Extreme mountaineers of the galaxy have a new goal. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

The data and images sent back from Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft starting last week have been nothing short of spectacular, with 11,000-foot peaks and vast frozen plains under icy layers of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. But nothing conveys the full effect of visiting this otherworldly landscape quite as well as the flyby simulation NASA stitched together from some of the mission's closest approach images.

First up in the video, which posted Friday, is a look at what it might be like to cruise over the Norgay Montes, the name given to the icy mountains in honor of Tenzing Norgay, one of the first people known to summit Mount Everest, along with Sir Edmund Hillary.

The images, taken from a distance of 48,000 miles above Pluto, aren't too terribly different in the abstract from topographic views of the contiguous lower 48 United States, with towering mountains like those seen in the West dotted with lower hills, ridges and high plateaus and bordered by broad, flat plains similar to the Great Plains.

The stunning lack of many large craters that you might reasonably expect from a body near the crowded Kuiper Belt contributes to making Pluto look a little less alien than expected.

The second half of the video focuses on the bird's-eye view of Sputnik Planum, the broad, flat plains named for the first man-made satellite in space that draws comparisons to the vast emptiness of areas like the Sahara Desert. The area is within the larger, heart-shaped feature in more distant views of Pluto.

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Check out the whole thing below for yourself and let us know in the comments or on Twitter @crave which region you think your great-great-great-great-great grandchildren will be more likely to visit on vacation.