Today’s post is written by Alex Parker, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, working on NASA’s New Horizons mission.
As New Horizons flew by Pluto, it recorded spectacular images of the icy world’s surface using the LORRI and MVIC cameras. It recorded the plasma and dust environments with the PEPSSI, SWAP, and SDC instruments. But one instrument, designed to measure the composition of Pluto and Charon’s surfaces, did something you might not expect: it recorded the first movies from the edge of our solar system.
Recorded with a 256 x 256 pixel camera at under two frames per second, they are not exactly HDTV. However, they are movies. And they are in color. Sort of.
The instrument is LEISA, New Horizons’ infrared imaging spectrometer. It is an extremely clever instrument; it takes 2-D images just like a normal camera, but it takes them through a linearly-varying filter. One side of the camera can only see light of one specific wavelength of infrared light (light that has longer wavelengths than can be seen by our eyes), and each row of pixels can see a subtly different wavelength.
This linear filter allows light with wavelengths as short ...