It's not lunacy: Not-a-planet Pluto boasts 5 moons

Pluto may have been kicked out of the planet club, but it has gained yet another companion.

FILE - In this file image provided by NASA Feb. 22, 2006 from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows Pluto and three of it's moons. (AP Photo/NASA,File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Pluto may have been kicked out of the planet club, but it has gained yet another companion.

Scientists announced Wednesday the discovery of the smallest moon yet around the icy orb, bringing the tally of known moons to five.

"We're not finished searching yet," said Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, who thinks there may be more lurking.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists who used the Hubble Space Telescope to scout out Pluto's neighborhood ahead of a NASA spacecraft that's scheduled to arrive in 2015. When the New Horizons craft launched in 2006, Pluto was a full-fledged planet, but has since been demoted to dwarf planet status by the International Astronomical Union.

The newfound moon — known as P5 until it gets a proper name — appeared as a faint fleck in the Hubble images. Scientists estimated the mini-moon to be 6 to 15 miles across, smaller than the still nameless one that they spotted last year, which is 8 to 21 miles wide.

Pluto's largest moon, the 650-mile-wide Charon, was discovered in 1978. Two smaller moons, Nix and Hydra, were found in 2005.

The moons are thought to have formed after an ancient collision between Pluto and an object in the Kuiper Belt, a disk teeming with small bodies that lies beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Since the launch of the New Horizons mission, scientists have been studying the Kuiper Belt in search of debris that might pose a danger to the spacecraft.

Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute said names for the new moon and last year's discovery will not be proposed until the team finishes analyzing the Hubble data in case there are more hidden moons.

Showalter said he favors names that go together — like the mythological Greek couple Orpheus and Eurydice.

"If we happen to find more moons, then we will have to pick a different story from Greek mythology," he said in an email.


Join the Conversation!

To comment, the following rules must be followed:

  • No Obscenity, Profanity, Vulgarity, Racism or Violent Descriptions
  • No Negative Community Comparisons
  • No Fighting, Name-calling, or Personal Attacks
  • Multiple Accounts are Not Allowed
  • Stay on Story Topic

Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content, but the station is under no legal obligation to do so.
If you believe a comment violates the above rules, please use the Flagging Tool to alert a Moderator.
Flagging does not guarantee removal.

Multiple violations may result in account suspension.
Decisions to suspend or unsuspend accounts are made by Station Moderators.
Links require admin approval before posting.
Questions may be sent to webmaster@wvlt-tv.com. Please provide detailed information.

powered by Disqus

WVLT VOLUNTEER TV

6450 Papermill Drive Knoxville, TN 37919 Phone - (865) 450-8888; Fax - (865) 450-8869
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2014 WVLT-TV Inc. - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 162179715 - local8now.com/a?a=162179715