Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New Horizons Spots Pluto’s Largest Moon

By David Reneke

David Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Pluto is looming larger as NASA’s robotic spacecraft mission “New Horizons” heads for a rendezvous with the dwarf planet on 14 July 2015. It’s expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons. NASA may then also attempt fly-bys of one or more other Kuiper Belt objects.

Pluto could quite easily be classified as an enigma wrapped in a puzzle with a question mark tacked on the end. What is it and where did it come from? Is it an errant moon of Neptune or an asteroid? Its orbit is eccentric, it hasn’t cleared its orbital path and it was too small to be called a planet in 1930 anyway. Hopefully we’ll have the answers soon.

Using its highest resolution telescopic camera, New Horizons has spotted Pluto’s largest ice-covered moon, Charon, for the first time. This represents a milestone on the spacecraft’s 10-year journey to conduct the initial reconnaissance of the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt.

“The image itself might not look very impressive to the untrained eye, but compared to the discovery images of Charon from Earth, these initial images from New Horizons look great!” says Project Scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University. “We’re very excited to see Pluto and Charon as separate objects for the first time from New Horizons.”

The spacecraft was still 880 million km from Pluto when its Long Range...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.