After launching on January 19, 2006, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft spent six months in 2015 orbiting Pluto, the ice dwarf at the outer edge of our Solar System that wishes it was a full-blown planet. While there, the craft gathered the best images of Pluto ever recorded before heading off to explore the Kuiper Belt. Now, Pluto lingers all alone some 4.67 billion miles away (depending on orbit) with only Charon and its other moons to keep it company. Though Pluto’s time in the spotlight has come to an end, for now, let’s take a look back at the very best images New Horizons captured of it last year.
Up Close and Personal to Pluto’s Heart
Like a Carebear, Pluto sports a giant heart shape right on its chest that has captured the imaginations of space lovers everywhere. This topographic image, taken on July 14, 2015, shows how the heart, also known as Sputnik Planum, is actually two miles lower than the rest of the surface.
Pluto’s North Pole
Another image captured on July 14, 2015, which was the day New Horizons made its closest flyby, this is Pluto’s north pole. The most exciting thing about this image is that it shows the many winding valleys that work their way through the area. Before now, detailed photography like this was impossible.
Pluto and Charon Hanging Out
This is a composite image of Pluto and its moon, Charon. These images were taken in mid-July 2015 and stitched together to allow us to see both of the tiny, icy masses orbiting each other. While this isn’t exactly what you’d see in your own spaceship as you cruised out to the Kuiper Belt, it’s really the only way we can see both of them at once in detail.
Pluto’s Icy Heart
Using four images captured by New Horizons, researchers were able to create this color photo of Pluto’s heart from 280,000 miles away on July 13, 2015. While this image has allowed researchers the ability to analyze Pluto’s topography, it also captured the minds of millions of people here on Earth who fell in love with the pale, heart-shaped scar. Without a doubt, this will be the image will be used to talk about Pluto for many years to come.
Look at Those Craters!
New Horizons got all up in Pluto’s face for this image, which, if you colored it grey, would look a lot like the surface of the Moon. At 260 miles wide and 140 miles high, this extremely detailed photo shows just how many craters cover Pluto’s surface and how ice forms inside them.
Welcome to Sputnik Planum!
Combining blue, red and infrared imagery, NASA researchers were able to give us this striking image of Pluto’s heart, which is informally called Sputnik Planum. Unlike the other images of the heart, this one allows for greater detail, allowing researchers to study the “nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices” present on Pluto’s surface.
A Blue Sky Over Pluto
Using New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), researchers released this image of Pluto’s blue sky on October 8, 2015. Blue skies, including Earth’s, occur when chemicals interact with incoming sunlight. While this image is created using data from New Horizons and computer generation, it allows us to actually Pluto’s skies, which are usually invisible inside other pictures of the ice dwarf.
An Icy Volcano? Maybe.
This is called Wright Mons, which lies right near Sputnik Planum. It’s about 100 miles wide and 13,000 feet tall. Oh, and it might be an ice volcano, which is definitely the coolest volcano you can have. The image was released on November 9, 2015, though the date it was taken is unsaid.