Although Pluto was declassified as a planet back in 2006, the icy orb may be having the last laugh: It’s got more moons than most bona fides do.
NASA has discovered a fifth moon orbiting the tiny globe, which lies in the netherworld beyond the orbit of Neptune, the outermost actual planet of our solar system. The Hubble Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 snapped photos of the irregularly shaped moon on June 26, 27, 29, and July 7 and 9, NASA said in a release. Rough estimates put it at six to 15 miles across.
Pluto technically lies in, and is a member of, the zone of so-called dwarf planets known as the Kuiper Belt. But as scientists are discovering, it really forms the center of its own mini-system.
“The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,” Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said in a NASA statement.
It’s a far cry from the warmth of Venus, at the opposite end of the solar system, bathed in the sun’s torpid heat. But NASA wants to know more about the icy dwarf, so it is awaiting more data from the spacecraft New Horizons, which is en route to study Pluto. It’s traveling at 30,000 miles per hour, or more than 1 million miles a day, and could be smashed to smithereens by a piece of orbital debris the size of a BB, NASA said. If that does not happen it will arrive near Pluto’s orbit in 2015.
This NASA video explains the mission in more depth, and below it Al-Jazeera reports on the new moon itself.