NASA's New Horizons probe sends back first images of Pluto's mysterious moons

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Feb 19, 2015, 3:47 PM EST (Updated)

It took us 85 years since first spotting Pluto way off in the night sky, but now we finally have our first images of the dwarf planet’s mysterious moons.

Launched in 2006, the New Horizons space probe is on an approximate 10-year mission to study Pluto and its moons. Dubbed Nix and Hydra, the moons were discovered by New Horizons team members by studying Hubble data. Now, nine years later, we have our first real images of these distant celestial bodies. They're tiny, sure, but the pics will only be getting bigger from here.

New Horizons is expected to finally arrive at Pluto this summer, where it’ll send back tons of images and data from Pluto and its moons. The craft is approximately 120 million miles away now, and just barely in range to send back some long-exposure shots of Nix and Hydra — which provide the best look yet at the two tiny moons orbiting Pluto at the far end of our solar system.

After spending the better part of a decade waiting, New Horizons science team member John Spencer said these initial images were a long time coming (and well worth the wait) for the scientists behind the project:

“It’s thrilling to watch the details of the Pluto system emerge as we close the distance to the spacecraft’s July 14 encounter. This first good view of Nix and Hydra marks another major milestone, and a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.”

The NASA images have been compiled below. Hydra is framed by a yellow diamond, while Nix can be identified by an orange diamond. As the craft continues its approach toward Pluto, it’ll be sending back more and more detailed shots.

(Via NASA)