Friday, July 13, 2012

Pluto and Its Five Moons

This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The green circle marks the newly discovered moon, designated S/2012 (134340) 1, or P5, as photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on 7 July 2012.

Other observations that collectively show the moon's orbital motion were taken on 26, 27 and 29 June and on July 9.

The moon is estimated to be 10 to 25 kilometers across. It is in a 95,000 kilometer diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be aligned in the same plane as the other satellites in the system.

The darker stripe in the center of the image is because the picture is constructed from a long exposure designed to capture the comparatively faint satellites of Nix, Hydra, P4 and S/2012 (134340) 1, and a shorter exposure to capture Pluto and Charon, which are much brighter.

Photo credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Note: For more information, see Hubble Discovers New Pluto Moon; also, Fifth Moon Discovered Around Pluto. And ScienceCasts reminds us that the New Horizons spacecraft will be flying past Pluto in 2015. (This video is a little dated already in that the narrator announces the then-recent discovery of a fourth moon.

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