pluto's moon new horizon

Nine years and 3 billion miles later, New Horizon finally got close enough to Pluto to spot it along with all its faint moons. The probe photographed Pluto’s five “underworld” satellites, Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx, Long Range Reconnaissance Imager with 10 seconds exposure. Light is a bit faint once you’re so far away from the sun that there aren’t any planets left to explore. Not if you count Pluto as one, though, since New Horizon will flyby past it in July. Some still stick to calling Pluto a planet, though officially it’s been demoted to dwarf planet status.

pluto's moons

Left: unprocessed image. Right: Pluto in the center, circled by its moons.

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The photos were taken 90 million km away from Pluto, but despite of the great distance the quality is quite good. Imagine that  Kerberos and Styx were only found by the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2011 and 2012. Now, a craft made by humans and launched from Earth will soon zip past them. It’s all quite exciting, and if you thought these photos are cool, wait until New Horizon beams back some real gems on July 14. Past this date, New Horizon will become the first probe in history to have raced past all “nine traditional planets.”

Pluto has a diameter of about 2,300km; Charon is half that. Hydra may reach over 100km. The other three moons, however, only measure a few tens of kilometers in diameter. Because Charon is bigger and brighter, it didn’t fit in this particular photo taken by the probe. You can see it here, though, in this image taken at a much farther distance.

new horizon spacecraft

Digital illustration of New Horizon. Image: NASA