Today, scientists announced that a new moon around Pluto has been discovered ”“ increasing the count of the dwarf planet’s known satellites to five. The discovery was made after researchers spotted the moon using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which was responsible for identifying three other satellites of Pluto (the P4, Nix, and Hydra). In this article, you will learn more about the discovery and information regarding the new moon.
The fifth moon of Pluto was given the name of S/2012 (134340) 1 (or P5, for short), but it is highly unlikely that this reference will stick. In time, the International Astronomical Union will play a role in naming the celestial body. They follow guidelines that state objects in Pluto’s neighborhood will be given mythological names related to the underworld ”“ thus current monikers, such as Pluto, Charon, Nix and Hydra. One day, P4 and P5 will join the group.
P5 is the smallest of the known satellites of Pluto. Researchers also believed that the moon has an irregular shape with a diameter that measures between 6 and 15 miles. To put the size of the new moon into perspective ”“ Charon measures 648 miles across, Nix and Hydra are somewhere between 20 and 70 miles wide, and P4 is believed to measure 8 to 21 miles across. All of these celestial bodies have nothing on Earth’s moon, which is about 2,150 miles wide.
P5 stays close to Pluto ”“ traveling around the dwarf planet at an average distance of 29,000 miles, which puts the moon outside the orbit of Charon but inside the orbits of the other moons.
While scientists are excited about finding a new moon of Pluto, some are also a bit apprehensive about the discovery. The New Horizons spacecraft that NASA plans to send to Pluto in 2015 for a flyby are now more mindful of objects found in the Solar System. Since the discovery of P4 and P5 means that outer space is more crowded than they originally assessed. The spacecraft could be sent off-course by colliding with a particle as small as a BB when traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere. With the help of Hubble, the spacecraft can plan a better route and aid in the preparation of encountering hazards in the space.
Interestingly, some researchers believe the moon (and the other moons of Pluto) could very well be a collection of debris and the aftermath of a massive collision between Pluto and another large object in the Kuiper Belt (known as the ring of icy bodies found beyond the orbit of Neptune).
Researchers believe that Pluto may have other moons and will not stop looking for additional satellites. The first discovered moon is named Charon, and was found in 1978 by researchers at the United States Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station in Arizona.