How Dangerous Is Pluto?
Pluto may no longer be a planet but it still has moons. Between 1978 and 2005 the little icy world formerly known as the ninth planet in our solar system has revealed moon after moon. Most people may not realize that Pluto has any moons or probably thought it just had one, like Earth. First […]
Pluto may no longer be a planet but it still has moons. Between 1978 and 2005 the little icy world formerly known as the ninth planet in our solar system has revealed moon after moon. Most people may not realize that Pluto has any moons or probably thought it just had one, like Earth. First there was Charon, which for several decades was believed to be Pluto’s only progeny. Then in 2005, tiny moonsHydra and Nix were discovered. And last month, while searching for potential rings or other hazards near Pluto the Hubble Space Telescope caught a glimpse of the dwarf planet’s fourth moon. It’s known as P4 for now but the mythological name game has already begun. Scientists working on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto have been looking for possible dangers the probe may encounter on its way to Pluto. A little blur that was dismissed in 2006 was confirmed to be the a new mini moon, which is estimated to be just 8 to 21 miles in diameter. Alan Stern, the director of the Southwest Research Institute’s New Horizons program told MSNBC.com’s Alan Boyle P4 was discovered on June 28 and confirmed by looking at archived images and by conducting follow-up observations this month. Boyle, who is the science editor for MSNBC.com and writes the blog Cosmic Log says, “The find is also a testament to Hubble’s amazing vision.” Using its Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed in 2009 and designed to study dark energy, it can capture images in the near-infrared, visible light or near-ultraviolet spectrum. And, now it’s helped spot a moon in Pluto’s orbit. Mark Showalter of the California-based SETI Institute says, “I find it remarkable that Hubble’s cameras enabled us to see such a tiny object so clearly from a distance of more than 3 billion miles.” When the New Horizons probe reaches Pluto in 2015, scientists are excited for what awaits them. Stern says, “Pluto’s satellite system is truly knocking our socks off with surprises — it’s magnificently complex, and getting more crowded all the time. I can’t wait till we get there to see what other surprises this planet and its moons have in store for us!”