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Pluto’s smaller moons pose mysteries

New Horizon images offer clues to dwarf planet’s history

6:00am, November 2, 2015
five moons of Pluto

FAMILY PORTRAIT  The five moons of Pluto show diverse sizes, shapes and surfaces that tell the story of how this system formed and evolved.

Pluto and Charon might have been the stars of the New Horizons mission, but the dwarf planet’s four smaller moons have some surprises to share as well.

With images of Kerberos transmitted from the spacecraft on October 20, the Pluto family portrait is complete. The tiny moons Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx are no longer pinpricks of light but textured, misshapen balls of ice that look quite different from both Pluto and Charon.

“It’s really cool that the Pluto system has all these different things,” says project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. With data from the four moons, “we can put together a more complete picture of how the system formed and evolved over time.”

Three of the moons — and possibly all four — appear to have been assembled from two smaller bodies squished together. Images of Kerberos in particular are reminiscent of early pictures of comet

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