New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft set to encounter Pluto later this year, has sent back its first views of the small moons orbiting the dwarf planet.
The moons Nix and Hydra are visible in a series of images taken by the spacecraft from 201 million to 186 million kilometres away.
The long-exposure images offer New Horizons’ best view yet of the two small moons first discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, exactly 85 years earlier on 18 February 1930.
“Professor Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto was far ahead its time, heralding the discovery of the Kuiper Belt and a new class of planet,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The New Horizons team salutes his historic accomplishment.”
“It’s thrilling to watch the details of the Pluto system emerge as we close the distance to the spacecraft’s July 14 encounter,” says New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also from Southwest Research Institute. “This first good view of Nix and Hydra marks another major milestone, and a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.”
Previous coverage of the New Horizons mission here.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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