Pluto’s Fifth Moon Discovered

This image, taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto. The green circle marks the newly discovered moon, designated P5, as photographed by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on July 7, 2012. CREDIT: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)
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(CREDIT: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute))

New images from the Hubble Space Telescope reportedly reveal the former-planet Pluto has a fifth moon.

Pluto’s fifth moon, temporarily named P5, is six- to 15-miles wide and travels around Pluto at 58,000-mile-wide orbit.

The discovery comes from NASA’s New Horizons team scoping out the space around Pluto for potential debris or dust that could damage their spacecraft for the Bastille Day flyby of July 14, 2015.  The voyage is expected to capture the most detailed photographs of Pluto’s lunar system.

The New Horizons craft travels at 30,000 mph and could be damaged by anything that gets in its path.

“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,” Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., the mission’s principal investigator, was quoted as saying.

“The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,” Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory was quoted as saying.

The discovery of Pluto’s moon will aid the researchers on the dwarf planet’s origins and evolution. The current theory suggests that the moons are relics from when Pluto was hit by a large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

A fourth moon, titled P4, was discovered near Pluto last year, but Mark Showalter from the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., has said he won’t name them until his research is finished so he can propose Hades-Underworld themed names from Greek Mythology. Charon, discovered in 1978, Nix and Hydra, both discovered in 2005, are Pluto’s other moons that fit this theme.

“This is a very tidy system, and what that means is, it’s an orbitally evolved system,” Showalter was quoted as saying. “Literally there are shells where the orbits are stable.”