Science

New Horizons spacecraft captures Pluto with its tiniest moons

NASA's Pluto-bound spacecraft can now see the dwarf planet's two tiniest known moons – both less than 30 kilometres wide.

Spacecraft scheduled for close flyby on July 14

New Horizons captured this image of Pluto and four of its moons in April. Photo quality should improve as the probe nears its closest approach on July 14. (NASA)

NASA's Pluto-bound spacecraft can now see the dwarf planet's two tiniest known moons — both less than 30 kilometres wide.

Kerberos (which is 10 to 30 kilometres wide) and Styx (which is seven to 21 kilometres) are seen circling Pluto, along with the slightly larger moons Hydra and Nix, in an animated series of "family photos" captured by the New Horizons spacecraft between April 25 and May 1, and released by NASA Tuesday.

"New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery," said mission science team member John Spencer, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., in a statement. "If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before."

New Horizons is scheduled to make a close flyby of Pluto and its moons on July 14.

At the time the images were taken, the spacecraft was 89 million kilometres away. The glare from Pluto and its largest moon Charon, along with the light of background stars, were damped out using image processing.

Kerberos and Styx were discovered using the Hubble telescope in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

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