It will be a long time before human beings can look out the window of a spacecraft and enjoy the view of the dwarf planet Pluto as they fly by. Until then, though, a new video released by NASA gives us an approximation of that view, using images captured by New Horizons during its closest approach of Pluto on July 14.
The spacecraft’s infrared imaging spectrometer LEISA took the images “through a linearly-varying filter,” New Horizons research scientist Alex Parker wrote in a blog post. The instrument captured different wavelengths of light, allowing scientists to learn more about the dwarf planet’s composition from the data.
“The animation shown here is one such movie collected by New Horizons during its flyby of Pluto. Each pixel is colored to show the relative wavelength of light that each pixel was allowed to see by LEISA’s linear filter,” Parker explained. “However, since LEISA sees in infrared light, the colors LEISA can see have been re-mapped for this video onto the human visual spectrum—the rainbow. The video has been sped up from its raw frame rate to show the motion smoothly.”
This data has already been used to discover water ice on Pluto, and we might learn even more as NASA continues to study this and other data sets. While we wait for these new discoveries to occur, at least we can enjoy this first colorful movie of the dwarf planet—and imagine what it might be like to travel that far through our solar system, looking out at the universe through stained glass windows.