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Pluto's tiny moon Kerberos revealed in new photo

"Once again, the Pluto system has surprised us," said NASA scientist Hal Weaver.

By Brooks Hays
Pluto's tiny moon Kerberos revealed in new photo
New Horizons' Kerberos image reveals the tiny moon to be much smaller and more reflective than scientists expected. Photo by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

LAUREL, Md., Oct. 23 (UPI) -- It's a peanut, it's abstract computer art...it's a moon?

The New Horizons probe has now delivered images of all of Pluto's moons. The latest is of Kerberos, Pluto's tiniest moon.

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The oddly shaped moon is even smaller than scientists expected. NASA astronomers expected the moon to feature a dull, light-absorbing surface, but Kerberos' surface turned out to be highly reflective.

"Once again, the Pluto system has surprised us," Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, remarked in a news release.

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Like Pluto's other moons, Kerberos is 50 percent reflective and appears to be coated in a thin layer of clean water ice.

New Horizons imaged the moon earlier this summer, but the information was only just beamed back to NASA scientists this week. The photo was captured just seven hours prior to the probe's closest approach to Pluto.

The image shows a double lobed shape, with the larger lobe measuring 5 miles wide, the smaller lobe just 3 miles. It measures approximately 19 miles in length.

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Like Pluto's other moons, researchers believe Kerberos was formed by a collision between Pluto and another object in the Kuiper belt.

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Astronomers had previously observed Kerberos using Hubble Space Telescope. Because researchers observed a strong gravitational influence on its neighbors, they predicted Kerberos to be rather large. Because it appeared so faint, scientists assumed its surface featured dark material.

"Our predictions were nearly spot-on for the other small moons, but not for Kerberos," explained co-investigator Mark Showalter, a researcher with New Horizons and the SETI Institute.

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