Fourth Moon Around Pluto Discovered

Published by: Andy on 21st Jul 2011 | View all blogs by Andy
Fourth Moon Around Pluto Discovered

Astronomers have reportedly discovered a fourth moon orbiting the tiny ice planet Pluto using the powerful Hubble Space Telescope.  The newly discovered moon, being called P4 until it is officially named, is smaller than the other three orbiting the planet, and was discovered during a Hubble survey in which scientists were looking for rings around Pluto.  The satellite has a diameter of just 8 to 21 miles, the research team said, compared to a 648 mile diameter of Charon, the largest.

The discovery is a result of ongoing work to support NASA”s New Horizons mission, scheduled to fly past Pluto in 2015.  The goal of the mission is to provide new insights about the world at the edge of our solar system.  Hubble's mapping of Pluto's surface and discovery of its moons will prove invaluable to planning for New Horizons' close encounter.  “This is a fantastic discovery,” noted Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO.  “Now that we know there's another moon in the Pluto system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby.”  Stern is serving as principal investigator on the New Horizons project.

The new Pluto moon is located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, Pluto's other two moons which were discovered in 2005.  Pluto's largest moon, Charon, was first observed in 1978 at the US Naval Observatory and resolved as a separate body from Pluto with Hubble in 1990.

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