Pluto, the dwarf planet right after Neptune in our Solar System, has been getting a lot of hype recently from NASA after the agency's Horizons spacecraft was able to successfully capture a complete image showing all four of Pluto's moons in orbit in a new photograph.
Shown below, you can see the individual four moons, named Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. You will notice there are three separate versions of the photograph; the first is the original photograph, the second is the processed version, and the third highlights and color-codes the four moons and their orbit around the dwarf planet:
Although Nix and Hydra are relatively large and bright moons in the photograph, Kerberos and Styx are both relatively small and dim, and therefore difficult to see.
Pluto's fifth moon, Charon, is not labeled in the photograph since image editing to make the other four moons more visible in the frame makes Charon harder to see.
This is a huge feat on NASA's part, as it's the first time that Kerberos and Styx have ever been photographed with spacecraft Horizons despite being seen with the Hubble Space Telescope 3-4 years ago. NASA's John Spencer notes that the agency's outlook on spacecraft Horizons is positive and expectations are high:
"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."
As NASA notes, spacecraft Horizons took the images while the spacecraft was approximately 64-million to 69-million Miles away from the dwarf planet with a space instrument attached to spacecraft Horizons dubbed LORRI, also known as Long Range Reconnaissance Imager.
Observing Pluto and its moons is no easy task. Pluto is incredibly far away from planet Earth and new imaging technology has been developed to try and improve our ability to see everything that is going on out there.
Despite already snapping successful photographs of Pluto's moons, the Horizons spacecraft will continue its journey through outer space examining as much of our uncharted Solar System as it can.
On July 14, 2015, spacecraft Horizons is scheduled to perform a close-up flyby of Pluto that should reveal even more about the distant world. This is the closest that the spacecraft will get to the distant dwarf planet on its journey.
Written by Anthony Bouchard