After nine years and a 4.8 billion kilometre journey, NASA’s New Horizons probe is finally getting close to everyone’s favourite ex-planet, Pluto. And in doing so, she’s also captured the first ever family portrait of Pluto and all its little moons.
So far, we’ve seen five moons orbiting Pluto: Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. (Yes, this does sound like the beginning of a Greek odyssey to capture a golden fleece.) Kerberos and Styx were only found by the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2011 and 2012, thanks to the distances involved, and their diminutive size: at most, they’re 32km and 20km wide respectively.
To obtain the image you see above, New Horizons used its most sensitive camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, shooting 10-second exposures. From there, the NASA team managing the mission did some serious ENHANCE work to end up with a photo in which you can kinda-sorta-maybe make out the moons.
As New Horizons gets closer to Pluto, there’s a distinct chance that we’ll spot new moons, ones that are simply too small and too far away to have been detected before. The Solar System isn’t done with secrets yet. [NASA]