New Horizons may be millions of miles past Pluto by now, but that doesn't mean the party's over. Data is being received and analyzed every day as the probe continues to transmit — and meanwhile, it's getting close to its next destination, which NASA has just decided on.
First, though, watch this amazing animation of the flyby from the perspective of New Horizons, made by NASA's Stuart Robbins from real-life imagery mapped onto a 3-D simulation of the Pluto system.
For watchability, Robbins tweaked the timescale so it goes slower while close to the dwarf planet, and bumped up the size of the moons a bit so they can be seen more clearly.
"Beyond that, everything about the movie is accurate," wrote Robbins in a blog post. "The Pluto hemisphere we see on closest approach, the lighting and shadows, the atmosphere’s size (though its brightness has been increased), the orbits of the satellites, the colors are our best estimate for what your eye would see, and so on."
"It’s an incredible look at system we are unlikely to revisit in our lifetimes."
But not the last look New Horizons will provide. NASA announced Friday that it has selected the probe's next destination: an object in the rocky Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69 — though a more palatable nickname will probably be bestowed on it before long.
That's assuming the team gets permission to carry out the "Potential Target 1" mission, which will need to be funded and staffed.
"While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science," said John Grunsfeld, chief of NASA's Science Mission directorate, in a news release.
There's no shortage of time: 2014 MU69 is over a billion miles past Pluto, meaning the spacecraft won't encounter it until January 1, 2019. The New Horizons team will make their proposal for funding some time in 2016.