Exactly one year ago on Thursday, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flyby of Pluto and its moons. An object of fascination ever since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930, the Plutonian system was at last brought into sharp focus, and the results were electrifying. To the delight of its many ardent fans, the dwarf planet turned out to boast several unusual surface features, including a bright, heart-shaped region of plains. Stretching 1,000 miles across, it is now known as the Tombaugh Regio.
"New Horizons not only completed the era of first reconnaissance of the planets, the mission has intrigued and inspired," said Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, in a Thursday statement.
"Who knew that Pluto would have a heart?" he added. "Even today, New Horizons captures our imagination, rekindles our curiosity, and reminds us of what's possible."
To celebrate the flyby's first birthday, NASA released a concept video that imagines what a lander might see if it approached the distant world, and descended to its surface. Compiled from over 100 New Horizon snapshots, the virtual trip zooms in on its target touchdown site at the edge of Tombaugh Regio.
While the resolution doesn't allow for a particularly detailed look at the Plutonian surface, the short simulation is a tantalizing glimpse of potential landing missions to the farflung system in the future. After all, New Horizons may have been the first spacecraft to pay Pluto and its moons a visit, but it would be a shame if it were the last. That heart is practically begging for an adorable robot companion.