WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered yet another moon orbiting Pluto, bringing the number of known moons orbiting the icy dwarf planet to five. It follows a similar discovery nearly a year ago.
The moon, visible as a speck of light in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 between June 26 and July 9, is believed to be irregular in shape and approximately 6 to 15 miles (9.6 to 24.1 kilometers) across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter (93,340 kilometer) 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, California. Astronomers are intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites and believe the discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved.
"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, Maryland. It is widely believed that all of the moons are relics of a collision billions of years ago between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object.
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. A fourth moon, P4, was discovered in Hubble data in July 2011.
The new moon has been provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1.
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