Fifth Moon of Pluto DiscoveredCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: July 13, 2012 08:00PM
The NASA ESA Hubble Space Telescope has recently discovered that Pluto, formerly the ninth planet in the Solar System, has five moons. Previously astronomers were only aware of four moons; Charon, Nix, Seti, and P4, which was discovered last year. This discovery is important for both understanding how Pluto may have formed and the New Horizons mission, which is on its way to the icy dwarf planet.
The dominant theory of how the moons of Pluto formed is actually similar to how our own Moon may have formed. At some point a massive object from the Kuiper belt, an asteroid belt at the outskirts of the Solar System, may have slammed into Pluto, causing debris to fly out. This debris then coalesced into the moons, primarily Charon though, which is so large that the center of gravity it and Pluto revolve about is actually in the space between the two objects, and not within the radius of Pluto.
This new moon is likely an irregularly shaped object that is 6-15 miles across, but appears to lie in the same plane as Pluto's other moons. Its discovery may require the NASA team in charge of the New Horizon spacecraft change its trajectory. At the speed it is flying at, even a BB-shot-size piece of debris could destroy it, so a full moon is definitely something to avoid.