NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has captured images of even the faintest moons of Pluto as it continues to move towards the distant dwarf planet. New Horizons got its first look at Kerberos and Styx, the smallest of Pluto’s five moons, from a distance of about 55 million miles using its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera.
All five moons of Pluto have been spotted
The spacecraft took a series of images between April 25 and May 1. NASA said in a statement that detecting such tiny moons from a distance of 55 million miles is amazing. Pluto’s five known moons are Charon, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx. Pluto has a diameter of about 1,450 miles, while Charon is 648 miles wide. Hydra and Nix were seen previously.
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Hydra is estimated to be 60 miles wide. The smallest ones, Kerberos and Styx are believed to have a diameter of just 4-13 miles and 6-20 miles, respectively. The four tiny moons can be seen individually in the new images. New Horizons’ images were processed to reduce the Pluto-Charon glare in order to reveal the smaller moons.
New Horizons discovered Kerberos and Styx in 2011 and 2012
Kerberos and Styx were first discovered in 2011 and 2012 by New Horizons team members using Hubble Space Telescope. New Horizons will make a historic flyby of Pluto on July 14. Soon, the probe will begin a moon search of its own to identify potential obstacles that could complicate its Pluto flyby. The spacecraft is moving so fast that it won’t be able to enter Pluto’s orbit upon arrival. It will have to collect as much data as possible during the close flyby.
Capturing the smallest moons of Pluto was an important step for NASA as the probe moves closer to the dwarf planet. This mission will complete the exploration of the “classical nine” planets of our solar system. With New Horizons’ flyby in July, all the “classical nine” planets would have been visited by a spacecraft at least once.