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  Pluto gains a moon: Hubble finds fifth satellite

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Author Topic:   Pluto gains a moon: Hubble finds fifth satellite
Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 07-11-2012 06:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto

A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.

"The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls," said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA's New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.

The team is using Hubble's powerful vision to scour the Pluto system to uncover potential hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft. Moving past the dwarf planet at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour, New Horizons could be destroyed in a collision with even a BB-shot-size piece of orbital debris.

"The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system," said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

"The inventory of the Pluto system we're taking now with Hubble will help the New Horizons team design a safer trajectory for the spacecraft," added Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., the mission's principal investigator.

Pluto's largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 in observations made at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Hubble observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra. In 2011 another moon, P4, was found in Hubble data.

Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 26, 27, 29, and July 7 and 9.

In the years following the New Horizons Pluto flyby, astronomers plan to use the infrared vision of Hubble's planned successor, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, for follow-up observations. The Webb telescope will be able to measure the surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons, and many other bodies that lie in the distant Kuiper Belt along with Pluto.

The Pluto Team members are M. Showalter (SETI Institute), H.A. Weaver (Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University), and S.A. Stern, A.J. Steffl, and M.W. Buie (Southwest Research Institute).

Mr. Apollo 17
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From: Ashland, OH USA
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posted 07-11-2012 09:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Mr. Apollo 17   Click Here to Email Mr. Apollo 17     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My blog post about this.

Blackarrow
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From: Belfast, United Kingdom
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posted 07-12-2012 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The fact that Pluto is now known to have its own family of (at least!) five moons must surely increase the justification for restoring its planetary status. Okay, Pluto is small, but we knew it as a planet for seven decades. Either the "rules" should be changed, or an honourable exception should be made.

I have always thought of our solar system as a family of worlds: not a wholly scientific approach, but there is surely room for a degree of human emotion in the study of our sibling worlds in the sun's extended family. Apart from Mercury and Venus, lurking in the solar glare, every planet has at least one moon.

As far as I know, none of the "dwarf planets" apart from Pluto is known to have moons. Time to correct an error. Let's go back to a Solar System of 9 planets.

Kite
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From: Northampton UK
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posted 07-13-2012 05:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kite     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Other dwarf planets known to have moons are Eris and Quqoar, which have one each and Haumea which has two.

However as of a certain age I would love to see Pluto re-established to its former status. I very much doubt that it will though.

garymilgrom
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From: Atlanta, GA, USA
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posted 07-13-2012 06:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even though us white-haired guys remember Pluto's planetary status fondly I don't think you can or should have things like "grandfather clauses" for science.

The beauty of science is that it changes. If scientific study means moving Pluto into some other classification that seems like progress to me.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 07-13-2012 08:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When the news of the fifth moon was announced, astronomer Mike "Pluto Killer" Brown tweeted:
First question I get this morning "Does Pluto having 5+ moons mean it might be a planet again?" Um, no. But thanks for asking.
He then followed up:
The REAL implication of 5+ moons for Pluto? Even things which aren't planets can be complicated and interesting. But you knew that. Right?

Even combined, the total mass of Pluto+moons is less than that of Eris+its moon. Which is also not a planet.

Why do I keep saying 5+ moons? Cause it seems pretty obvious at this point that more smaller ones will be found, too. Crazy system.

Blackarrow
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From: Belfast, United Kingdom
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posted 07-13-2012 11:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by garymilgrom:
The beauty of science is that it changes.
A fair point, but what has been changed once can be changed back if enough people with influence decide to do so.

Saturn V
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From: Golden, Colorado, USA
Registered: Nov 2006

posted 07-13-2012 01:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Saturn V     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Will it be possible when the time comes for Hubble to get a flicker of reflected light from New Horizons when it passes by Pluto?

I vote for Pluto as a planet. I'm old enough to remember and my hair is not grey yet. Well at least 99% is not grey....

LM1
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Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-03-2012 03:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM1   Click Here to Email LM1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Pluto system is getting more complicated as New Horizons approaches. I wish that NASA had planned for New Horizons to land on Pluto or Charon. A station on this planet would travel well above the plane of the ecliptic and would send back information to Earth for many decades. However, it is planned to travel further into the cosmos to perhaps discover more Pluto-like objects.

AJ
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From: Plattsburgh, NY, United States
Registered: Feb 2009

posted 08-04-2012 08:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for AJ   Click Here to Email AJ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to say, I have always found Mike Brown's comments, about Pluto and beyond, to be very negative. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who I have found to be unceasingly curious and enthusiastic about the process of discovering more about our cosmos, Brown comes across as a crank. So my point is I don't give a damn what he thinks about Pluto, scientist or not.

Clearly, whether we call it a planet or not, Pluto continues to surprise us and I daresay we have many, many things to learn from that part of the solar system. To me, this is a good thing.

Blackarrow
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Posts: 2024
From: Belfast, United Kingdom
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 08-04-2012 05:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Whether or not he is a crank, he's certainly extremely condescending: see his charming response to those who suggested that a solar system body with a family or at least 5 Moons ought to be restored to planetary status ("Um, no. But thanks for asking.")

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