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NASA probe snaps Pluto's smallest moons for the first time

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
May 14, 2015
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Getting kicked out of the major planet club always seemed a bit unfair to Pluto, considering that it has four more moons than Earth. On the other hand, two of those, Styx and Kerberos, are so small that we only found out about them a few years ago. NASA's New Horizons probe has just taken its first snapshots of those new satellites, something of a miracle considering it was 55 million miles away and Styx is only 4 to 13 miles across. It required 10 second exposures from the probe's sensitive Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and copious image processing to reduce background glare, resulting in the animation above.

The photo is a sign of things to come, as New Horizons will carry on toward Pluto until it it passes within about 10,000 km (6,200 miles) of the dwarf planet around July 14th this year. At that point, it'll map out Pluto's surface and study its largest moon, Charon, which is actually about half the diameter of Pluto. It'll also search for evidence of cryo-geysers that scientists think could be active on Charon. The probe will produce the highest resolution images yet of Pluto (Hubble has taken the best photos so far, above) -- giving the snubbed planet a chance to finally get to strut its stuff.

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