NASA astronomers discover new moon around Pluto
Houston: NASA astronomers, while searching for rings around the dwarf planet Pluto, have discovered a tiny new moon around the planet, photos from the Hubble Space Telescope showed.
The moon, which has been temporarily named P4, was spotted in a Hubble survey searching for rings around Pluto. The tiny satellite, the fourth and smallest one, is estimated to be between 13 to 34 kilometers wide.
For comparison, Pluto’s largest moon Charon is 1,043 km across. The dwarf planet’s other moons, Nix and Hydra, range between 32 to 113 km across.
“I find it remarkable that Hubble’s cameras enabled us to see such a tiny object so clearly from a distance of more than 5 billion km,” Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif said in a statement.
Showalter led this observational survey with Hubble. Pluto’s new moon is located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, which Hubble also discovered in 2005.
Charon was discovered in 1978 at the US Naval Observatory and was first resolved using Hubble in 1990 as a separate body from Pluto.
The finding is a result of ongoing work to support NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is scheduled to fly through the Pluto system in 2015.
The mission is designed to provide new insights about worlds at the edge of our solar system.
Hubble’s photos of Pluto’s surface and the discovery of its satellites have been invaluable for planning for New Horizons’ close encounter, scientists said.
“This is a fantastic discovery,” said New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
“Now that we know there’s another moon in the Pluto system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby.”