New Horizons parts Pluto with a shot of its puniest moon

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Steve Dent
October 23rd, 2015
New Horizons parts Pluto with a shot of its puniest moon

NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft has done yeoman's work at Pluto, having taken stunning images of the ex-planet and its major moon Charon. Now it's taking off for the largely unseen Kuiper belt, but it grabbed one last image of the tiny moon Kerberos before leaving. It turns out that the body is smaller than thought at around 8 miles across, and consists of two distinctive "lobes." Much like Comet 67P orbited by the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, the unusual shape of Kerberos may be the result of a collision between two smaller objects. Like Pluto's other small moons, and several spots on the quasi-planet itself, it's also coated with "relatively clean water ice," making it highly reflective.

NASA said that New Horizons is now executing the first of four maneuvers enroute to a body called "2014 MU69," a billion miles away. The 30-mile-wide "ancient" object was first spotted by Hubble as a potential target for the spacecraft several years ago. It hasn't budged since it formed in the Kuiper Belt, and is thought to be typical of bodies that originally made up planets like Pluto. "Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach (than other candidate targets), leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen," the agency said. If all goes to plan, it should arrive by January, 2019.

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