New NASA image of Kerberos completes the Pluto family portrait

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Oct 28, 2015, 11:42 PM EDT (Updated)

NASA's New Horizons team keeps hitting it out of the solar system with more mind-blowing images from the intrepid spacecraft's odyssey to the icy world of Pluto.  This week, the last of the frigid dwarf planet's five satellites, Kerberos, was revealed, its photo created by combining four individual Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) pictures taken during the historic flyby on July 14.  The data was captured approximately seven hours before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, at a range of 245,600 miles from Kerberos. 

Behold the oblong moon of Kerberos below, though not in the incredible detail we're used to seeing of Pluto and Charon, but considering this odd-shaped object is only eight miles from tip to tail, it's pretty amazing.  Downlinked from New Horizons on Oct. 20, the larger of the miniature moon's two lobes is a mere five miles across, and the smaller segment just three miles wide.


This completes the quaint family portrait of Pluto and its five moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos.  Prior to New Horizons' three-billion-mile venture to the Pluto system, researchers had used Hubble Space Telescope images to “weigh” Kerberos by measuring its gravitational influence on its neighboring moons.

“Our predictions were nearly spot-on for the other small moons, but not for Kerberos,” said New Horizons co-investigator Mark Showalter, of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

Much smaller than expected and highly reflective, Kerberos was the final moon in Pluto's satellite system to be viewed.  It's theorized to have formed by the merger of two smaller astral bodies and is possibly coated with clean water ice.   What do you think of Pluto's misshapen extended family?


(Via NASA/New Horizons)