NASA: Pluto’s Moons Tumble Around on a Celestial Roller Coaster

posted: 06/03/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Artist impression of Pluto and an orbiting body
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An artist impression of Pluto and an orbiting celestial body.

New data from the Hubble Space Telescope indicates that two of Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, are constantly wobbling and tumbling unpredictably through their orbit around the dwarf planet. As NASA explains:

The moons wobble because they're embedded in a gravitational field that shifts constantly. This shift is created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon as they whirl about each other. Pluto and Charon are called a double planet because they share a common center of gravity located in the space between the bodies. Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically. The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons. Scientists believe it's likely Pluto's other two moons, Kerberos and Styx, are in a similar situation.

The data also shows that Pluto's moon Kerberos is a dark charcoal color, whereas the other moons are a brighter sand color. NASA officials hope that New Horizons' July flyby of the dwarf planet with further elucidate the multitude of mysteries surrounding Pluto and its moons.

Click here for the full story from NASA

Learn more about Pluto:

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J. Hall: Is Pluto a planet?

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