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New Horizons Snaps Photographs Of Pluto's Faintest Moons

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Caroline Reid

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225 New Horizons Snaps Photographs Of Pluto's Faintest Moons
Artist's rendition of Pluto (large planet) and Charon (smaller planet) from the view of one of Pluto's moons via NASA

The excitement is building as NASA's intrepid space explorer, New Horizons, zooms through space towards Pluto. On July 14th, 2015, the spacecraft will reach the closest point of its flyby of Pluto and will send the most detailed photographs of the solar system's ex-planet back home.

New Horizons is sending little reminders that it's eeking closer and closer to Pluto. It is now near enough to see Pluto's faintest moons. These photos are giving the team at NASA a chance to tweak and perfect the techniques they will use to analyze the data, as well as prepare to get the best quality images of Pluto possible (they only get one chance!)


It's not just Pluto that the team care about: They also want to fine-tune their photography so that they can start scanning the skies for unexpected debris, moons or rings that could damage New Horizons should they to collide.

Before now, New Horizons has snapped photos that include Pluto's largest moon: Charon, which is almost half as wide as Pluto. But Pluto's a social planet and has four other moons: Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx.

Kerberos and Styx verge on miniscule. They are estimated to be 7-21 kilometers (4-13 miles) wide and 10-32 kilometers (6-20 miles) wide, respectively.

“Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI).


GIF of the latest photos of Pluto and its five moons by New Horizons via NASA

The original photo had to be processed quite a lot to reduce the glare from Pluto and Charon before the moons were even visible.

“New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery,” said John Spencer, a mission team member from SWRI. “If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before.” 

[Via NASA]


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