It is already known that the dwarf planet has distinctive features of the surface and is possibly even covered with polar ice. NASA’s New Horizons mission is now monitoring not only the largest satellites of Pluto, but also all natural satellites.
Imagine that at a distance of more than 55 million miles (88 million kilometers) from the Pluto system between April 25th and May 1st, a new satellite of the New Horizons mission showed the largest satellite of five 10-second observations of the Long-Range Recognition Thermal Imager (LORRI) Pluto Charon, as well as smaller satellites Knicks and Hydra, and for the first time identified the recently discovered satellites Kerberos and Styx.
"New Horizons is on the verge of discovery," said mission scientist John Spencer, at the Southwestern Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, at a NASA press release. "If the spacecraft detects additional satellites as Pluto approaches, they will be worlds that no one has ever seen before."
Tiny Kerberos and Styx are only 4 to 13 miles (6 to 21 kilometers) and 6 to 20 miles (10 to 32 kilometers) in diameter and were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, by the New Horizons research team, using Hubble Space Telescope data.
For comparison, Charon is 750 miles (1200 kilometers) wide, the Knicks is 29 to 85 miles (47 and 137 kilometers) wide, and Hydra is from 37 to 92 miles (60 and 148 kilometers). These uncertainties in satellite diameters will be significantly reduced as soon as the New Horizons rapidly approach the planet on July 14.
"Discovering these tiny satellites at a distance of over 55 million miles is amazing, and this is a good reputation for our team that built the long-range camera of our LORRI and team, John Spencer," said lead researcher at Southwestern Research Institute Alan Stern.
The imaging and processing methods used by the team will now be used to continue researching the terrain surrounding Pluto. It has long been supposed, with the discovery of a growing family of a dwarf planet from natural satellites, that there are many more moons. There can be found rings of debris, meaning a possible ancient impact in the Kuiper Belt.
Interestingly, all satellites except Charon were discovered after the launch of New Horizons from Cape Canaveral, Fla., In 2006. Since then, the growing Pluto family has caused excitement - and concern - imagine how a spacecraft passes through the edge of the solar system almost decades later after the first flyby of a dwarf planet. Of fundamental concern are unforeseen rings and debris clouds, which may pose a danger of collision for the probe. The more moons discovered, the more likely it is to find there moons of tiny size and space debris. By observing Pluto, you can assess the danger and maybe even discover more of Pluto satellites.
On May 15, any observations made by the mission will exceed any observations made by Hubble, so it is possible that some exciting and historical discoveries in the external solar system will occur very soon.
Only weeks separate us from the long-awaited flight, and in July science is already expecting to receive high-quality streaming video.