Scientists Discover Yet Another Moon Orbiting 'Dwarf' Planet Pluto
Pluto, the ninth planet from the sun is so tiny that in 2006 it lost its status as a full-fledged member of the solar system and was instead demoted to dwarf planet. But tiny as it it may be, the planet seems to be attracting a lot of moons around it. Just last year NASA's Hubble Telescope discovered a fourth moon, which scientists believed was the final one.
However, on July 7th 2012, they made a yet another discovery - A tiny fifth moon, circling the planet at a distance of about 26,000 miles. Unlike our perfectly spherical 2,150 mile wide moon, P5 is irregularly shaped and estimated to be between just 6-15 miles wide. In fact, all of Pluto's moon's are quite small. Charon the largest is just 648 miles wide, Nix and Hydra are between 20 -70 miles wide, and P4, the one found last year, is slightly larger than the most recent discovery.
The fact that a dwarf planet can have such a complex collection of satellites is very intriguing to scientists. While they still do not know for sure how the Pluto system formed and evolved, they believe the moons are a result of a collision between Pluto and another icy Pluto like body that orbits beyond Neptune.
Though exciting, this new discovery adds yet another hurdle to the path of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft that is heading toward Pluto for a historic flyby. Scheduled to occur in 2015, it is expected to provide scientists with a treasure trove of information about the mysterious icy 'dwarf' planet.
According to experts, the detection of these various moons indicates the presence of many small particles around the Pluto system that are not visible to us. Because New Horizons is moving at such a rapid pace, a collision with even the tiniest of particles could derail its path. Therefore, scientists will have chart its trajectory very carefully to ensure that it somehow avoids not only the larger objects they can observe, but also, the unseen tinier particles.
The encouraging news is that thanks to a backup trajectory called SHBOT (Safe haven Bail-Out Trajectory), scientists can change New Horizon's route at the very last minute and move it away from danger's path - While this means that the satellite won't be able to complete its mission, it will at least not be destroyed.
The new discovery has also created a dilemma for the International Astronomical Union that is responsible for naming the new moons. According to its guidelines, objects around the dwarf planet should be given mythological names that are associated with the underworld - So far Pluto, Charon, Nix and Hydra all fit the bill. Now, they have to find similar names for P4 and P5 - Can you think of any? If so, be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.
Resources: mashable.com, NASA.gov.com,csmonitor.com