New Horizons Probe Watches Pluto's Tiny Moons Go Round

Image: Nix and Hydra
Imagery from NASA's New Horizons probe shows Nix and Hydra circling / NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

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When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft was launched to Pluto in 2006, astronomers had only just found out that Nix and Hydra existed. Nine years later, they're having fun watching the tiny moons whirl around the icy dwarf planet. This week, the New Horizons team released the piano-sized probe's first time-lapse series of images showing Nix and Hydra in motion.

The pictures were captured between Jan. 27 and Feb. 8, from distances ranging between 125 million and 115 million miles (201 million to 186 million kilometers).

The images were processed to minimize the glare from Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon, and the results were released on Wednesday, the 85th anniversary of Pluto's discovery. A member of the science team, John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute, said in a news release that showing off the views of Pluto's dancing moons was "a perfect way" to celebrate the occasion. But these fuzzy pictures are just a foretaste of what we'll see as New Horizons closes in for its July 14 flyby of Pluto and its five known moons.



— Alan Boyle