[meteorite-list] Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2012 11:46:58 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201207111846.q6BIkxPO017668_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto
News Release Number:* STScI-2012-32
July 11, 2012

A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reporting
the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across.
It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is
assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.

"The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian
dolls," said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain
View, Calif.

The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a
complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional
clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The
favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between
Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA's New Horizons
spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic
and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.

The team is using Hubble's powerful vision to scour the Pluto system to
uncover potential hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft. Moving past
the dwarf planet at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour, New Horizons could
be destroyed in a collision with even a BB-shot-size piece of orbital

"The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there
must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,"
said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

"The inventory of the Pluto system we're taking now with Hubble will
help the New Horizons team design a safer trajectory for the
spacecraft," added Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in
Boulder, Colo., the mission's principal investigator.

Pluto's largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 in observations
made at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Hubble
observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and
Hydra. In 2011 another moon, P4, was found in Hubble data.

Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, the latest moon was detected
in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on
June 26, 27, and 29, 2012 and July 7 and 9, 2012.

In the years following the New Horizons Pluto flyby, astronomers plan to
use the infrared vision of Hubble's planned successor, NASA's James Webb
Space Telescope, for follow-up observations. The Webb telescope will be
able to measure the surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons, and many
other bodies that lie in the distant Kuiper Belt along with Pluto.

The Pluto team members are M. Showalter (SETI Institute), H.A. Weaver
(Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University), and S.A. Stern,
A.J. Steffl, and M.W. Buie (Southwest Research Institute).


Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
villard at stsci.edu <mailto:villard at stsci.edu>

Karen Randall
SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif.
krandall at seti.org <mailto:krandall at seti.org>
Received on Wed 11 Jul 2012 02:46:58 PM PDT

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