PLUTO’S five moons have been captured on camera for the first time EVER as a NASA probe nears the dwarf planet.
The historic moment was recorded by NASA’s New Horizons probe, which is exploring Pluto and beyond.
Previously the probe has only caught footage of Pluto, which was previously downgraded from its status as a full planet, as well as its largest moon Charon and two of its smallest moons – Hydra and Nix.
However, now, Kerberos and Styx, the dwarf planet’s smallest and faintest moons, are also visible.
Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters.
John Spencer, programme scientist of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said: “New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery. If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before.”
NASA said initial viewing appeared to show only four moons visible in the footage, but Charon is also in the images – although it blends into the bright centre of imagery.
Pluto’s four smaller moons were discovered by scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Nix and Hydra were found in 2005, while Kerberos and Styx were discovered more recently in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The unmanned New Horizons probe will start looking for any more more moons and rings around Pluto this month.
However, astronomers fear previously unseen objects in the dwarf planet’s vicinity may put the spacecraft in jeopardy as it heads toward its closest approach in July – and navigators will be very cautious as it nears.
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, said: “Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters.”
New Horizons was launched towards Pluto in 2006.
Once the probe flies past Pluto and its moons on July 14, the spacecraft will continue flying farther from Earth, investigating other cold bodies past the dwarf planet.
Source : Express.co.uk