The New Horizons spacecraft of NASA has succeeded in creating a perfect family portrait of Pluto; it has captured images of the planet with all its moons including the tiniest of its moons.
Right now, the spacecraft is moving quickly with the aim of completing a historic flyby of the ninth planet on July 14, 2015, but only after capturing a series of photographs between April 25 and May 1. The said images have been captured using the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager camera. This is the first time the probe has managed to photograph two of the faintest Pluto moons namely Styx and Kerberos.
Alan Stern, the principal investigator of New Horizons, issued a statement saying that detecting these small moons from a distance of over 55 million miles is an amazing achievement. He has given all the credit to the people responsible for making the LORRI long-range camera and the team of ring and moon hunters operating under the leadership of John Spencer. Stern represents the Boulder, Colorado-based Southwest Research Institute.
For those who don’t know: Pluto has 5 known satellites; they are: Styx, Kerberos, Nix, Hydra, and Charon. With a diameter of 648 miles, Charon is almost half of the size of Pluto. All the other four moons are much tinier, and Styx and Kerberos are tiniest of them all. According to experts, Styx and Kerberos are just 6 to 20 miles and 4 to 13 miles wide, respectively.
An image captured by the NASA probe recently contains all the four tiny moons. While the small moons are visible quite clearly in the image, Charon has melded with the planet producing a blue glare.
Researchers involved in this project have processed all the newly captured images quite extensively for reducing the glare created by Pluto and its biggest moon Charon; this has made the presence of the smaller moons even clearer.
Spencer, another representative of the Boulder-based Southwest Research Institute, said that at present the NASA probe is on the verge of making discoveries. He added that if the spacecraft manages to observe additional moons as it gets closer to the planet, it will be the first to spot those unknown worlds.