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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Astronomers Discovery 5th Moon of Pluto (But It Is Still Not a Planet)

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered Pluto's fifth moon, a little more than three years before a NASA space probe is due to sail past the dwarf planet and its tribe of satellites.

The irregular moon, estimated to be 6 to 15 miles (10 to 25 kilometers) across, was found in the course of checking out the potential collision hazards facing NASA's New Horizons spacecraft for the Bastille Day flyby on July 14, 2015. "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," the mission's principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, said in a Hubble news release.

Stern and his colleagues suspect this fifth moon won't be the stuff they find in Pluto's neighborhood. "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.

Call it P5 ... for now
The fifth moon is currently known only by its provisional names: S/2012 (134340) 1, or P5 for short. It'll be up to the discoverers to propose a more lyrical name to the International Astronomical Union, which classified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006.
 Full story here.

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