A journey that has lasted almost ten years and is finally drawing to an end. Or at least almost. In fact, the Nasa spacecraft, New Horizons is to reach its destination: Pluto. Actually it will take another month and a half to enter the moon’s orbit, in fact the arrival is scheduled for July-but in the meantime, the probe has begun to send to earth spectacular images, including the first images of Pluto in colour.
The latest snapshots sent to earth depict two of the smaller moons of the planet, Cerberus and Styx. New Horizons has actually begun to “observe” Pluto early 2015 and its images-for 150 days–will have a resolution to be far superior to that of the Hubble telescope. “New Horizons is on the threshold of a discovery, says John Spencer, mission Manager team. -If the sensor observes other moons as we approach Pluto, there will be worlds that noone has ever seen before. ”
Now the probe will begin searching for new satellites or rings that could threaten it while passing through the system. Pictures of Styx and Cerberus allow the research team to refine techniques used to analyse data. Cerberus and Styx were discovered respectively in 2011 and 2012 New Horizons team using the Hubbletelescope. Styx, which has been following its circular orbit in 20 days between the orbits of Charon and Night, probably has a diameter between 7 and 21 km, and Cerberus, which traverses its orbit between night and Hydra with a period of 32 days, has a diametre between 10 and 30 km.
New Horizons will remain in Pluto’s orbit for five years, until 2020, and then will move to the Kuiper belt, a region of the solar system that extends from the orbit of Neptune until 50 au (astronomical units) from the Sun. It is composed of minor bodies of the solar system, is extraneous to the orbit of the planets, and is more similar to the main belt of asteroids, but 20 times more extensive and from 20 to 200 times more massive. The end of the New Horizons mission has been planned for 2026.