New Horizons Probe Gets First Look at Pluto's Tiny Moons

PHOTO: A drawing shows the New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015.NASA
A drawing shows the New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015.

NASA's New Horizon Probe has gotten its closest ever look at two small moons orbiting Pluto.

Coming on the 85th birthday of the discovery of Pluto, NASA Wednesday released two long-exposure images showing two of Pluto's moons, Hydra and Nix, orbiting the dwarf planet. It was the first time the space probe had gotten close enough to view the moons.

The photos were taken on Jan. 27 and Feb. 8 at a distance of 115 million to 125 million miles, according to NASA. Each moon is believed to be between 25 and 95 miles in diameter, but NASA will learn more as the New Horizons probe gets closer in July.

Pluto has two other small moons, Styx and Kerberos, which are so faint they are not yet visible from the spacecraft.

NASA/JHU APL/Southwest Research Institute
PHOTO: Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, are visible in a series of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft released by NASA on Feb. 18, 2015.

New Horizons blasted into space atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006. Pluto at the time was still considered a planet, with scientists later that year voting to demote its status to that of a dwarf planet.

After a sleepy nine years, the probe woke up in December 2014 from the last of its 18 hibernation periods as it prepared for its initial approach toward Pluto. The spacecraft is scheduled to come as close as 6,200 miles from the surface of Pluto July 14, 2015, the closest any manmade object has come to the dwarf planet.