Pluto’s five moons captured on camera for first time EVER


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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.

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator

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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

NASA spacecraft sends historic Pluto images


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent its first stunning images of Pluto as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet.

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New Horizons was more than 203 million km away from Pluto when it began taking images, the US space agancy said in a statement.

Although still just a dot along with its largest moon, Charon, the images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered the distant icy world in 1930.

“My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons,” said Clyde Tombaugh’s daughter Annette Tombaugh, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it — to get to see the moons of Pluto — he would have been astounded. I am sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today,” she added.

The new images, taken with New Horizons’ telescopic Long—Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), are the first acquired during the spacecraft’s 2015 approach to the Pluto system which culminates with a close flyby of Pluto and its moons July 14.

Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto, against a starry backdrop, to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto.

As in these first images, the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until late spring.

“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“The dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets. The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera’s performance is unchanged since it was launched more than nine years ago,” Weaver said.

Source: thehindu