Since their discovery by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005, the tiny satellites of Pluto: Nikta and Hydra were just tiny specks of light. But thanks to the new data obtained by the NASA New Horizons mission, everything has changed.
Rushing through the Pluto system on July 14 at a speed of about 31,000 miles per hour, the New Horizons were able to photograph tiny satellites of a dwarf planet during a close encounter when the spacecraft was about 7750 above the surface of Pluto. We are all now familiar with Pluto and its largest satellite, Charon, but smaller satellites are not well understood.
However, things are starting to change thanks to the new images shown on Tuesday.
The picture above shows Nyx and Hydra, the second and third satellite of Pluto, which were discovered after Charon. The color of Nyx was artificially enhanced, and it took on a reddish hue. According to NASA, the satellite is about 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.
The scientists of the mission were interested in this reddish region, and they have already assumed that this region is a large impact crater, but they must be patient and wait for more ship data.
"Additional data on Nikta were taken by the mission, but were not yet sent to Earth. Thanks to them, we can more accurately say what caused the reddish tint of this region," said Karly Houette, scientist at the New Horizons mission at the South-West Research Institute. in Boulder, Colorado. "These observations intrigue me so much that I can't wait to receive them." In addition to Nikta, New Horizons took photos of the Hydra from a distance of 143,000 miles (231,000 km). These observations show the irregular shape of a satellite, which is about 34 miles (55 kilometers) long and 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide. In addition, two large craters and some differences in the surface composition were found on the satellite surface.
"Until last week, Hydra was just a simple faint point of light, so for the first time we are looking at it and, thanks to the images of New Horizons, we can determine its shape and surface structure," said Ted Strick, a scientist at Roanne, Tennessee State Community College.
In addition to Charon, Nikta and Hydra, there are two more satellites: Kerber and Styx, which were also discovered by Hubble in 2011 and 2012, respectively. As time goes by, scientists would like to get more pictures of the satellite family of Pluto and learn more about this fascinating area of the Kuiper Belt.