Final Hazard Search

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute2015-07-08



This single frame from a four-frame movie shows New Horizons' final deep search for hazardous material around Pluto, obtained on July 1, 2015. These data allow a highly sensitive search for any new moons. The images were taken with the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) over a 100-minute period, and were the final observations in the series of dedicated searches for hazards in the Pluto system which began on May 11. The images show all five known satellites of Pluto moving in their orbits around the dwarf planet, but analysis of these data has so far not revealed the existence of any additional moons. This means that any undiscovered Plutonian moons further than a few thousand miles from Pluto must be smaller than about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) in diameter, if their surfaces have similar brightness to Pluto's big moon Charon. For comparison, Pluto's faintest known moon, Styx, which is conspicuous in the lower left quadrant of these images, is about 4 miles (7 kilometers) across, assuming the same surface brightness. The absence of additional moons, and also the absence of detectable rings in the hazard search data, imply that the spacecraft is very unlikely to be damaged by collisions with rings, or dust particles ejected from moons, during its high-speed passage through the Pluto system.

The four movie frames were taken at 16:28, 16:38, 17:52, and 18:04 UTC on July 1, from a range of 9.4 million miles (15.2 million kilometers). Each frame is a mosaic of four sets of overlapping images, with a total exposure time of 120 seconds. The images have been heavily processed to remove the glare of Pluto and Charon, and the dense background of stars, though blemishes remain at the locations of many of the brighter stars. The "tails" extending to the right or downward from Pluto and Charon are camera artifacts caused by the extreme overexposure of both objects. Pluto and its five moons Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra are identified by their initials, and their orbits around the center of gravity of the system (which is located just outside Pluto itself) are also shown.


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  • Title: Final Hazard Search
  • Creator: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
  • Date Created: 2015-07-08
  • Rights: JPL