NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has taken its first-ever family picture of the Pluto system, seizing the dwarf planet and all five of its recognized moons. New Horizons, which is flying toward a significant flyby of Pluto on July 14, took a sequence of images from April 25 through May 1 by means of its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera. The images mark the first time New Horizons has achieved to resolve the tremendously pale Pluto moons Kerberos and Styx, mission group members said. New Horizons main investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement "Spotting these small moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is remarkable, and a acknowledgment to the group that built our LORRI long-range camera and [mission group member] John Spencer’s group of moon and ring searchers,"
|NASA's New Horizons spacecraft took these images of Pluto and its moons on April 25, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI|
Pluto's five identified moons are Charon, Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. At 648 miles (1,043 km) in diameter, Charon is approximately half as wide as Pluto itself, but the other four moons are tiny. Kerberos and Styx, for instance, are believed to be just 4 to 13 miles (7 to 21 km) and 6 to 20 miles (10 to 32 km) wide, respectively. The four small moons are observable separately in the new pictures, while Charon mixes with Pluto in a far brighter blur at the middle of the other satellites' orbits. New Horizons scientists processed the real LORRI pictures broadly to lessen the Pluto-Charon brightness and disclose the pale small moons. Kerberos and Styx were first discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, by New Horizons group members by means of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The spacecraft is poised to initiate a moon hunt of its own in the upcoming days, as part of an effort to detect dangers that could complicate New Horizons' July 14 Pluto flyby.
The $700 million New Horizons mission initiated in January 2006 to conduct the first up-close investigation of Pluto and its moons. Pluto has stayed mysterious since its 1930 sighting because it is quite small and lies so far from the sun; even the best Hubble pictures show the dwarf planet as a distortion of pixels. But New Horizons will bring Pluto into focus: On July 14, the spacecraft will zoom within only 7,800 miles (12,500 km) of the dwarf planet's chilly surface.