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Space & Astronomy

Pluto's moons tumble about in absolute chaos

June 4, 2015 | Comment icon 11 comments



An artist's impression of Charon as viewed from the surface of Pluto. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 ESO
The smaller moons of Pluto are now believed to wobble about unpredictably as they orbit the dwarf planet.
Scientists have revealed that two of Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble chaotically as they go around it because the gravitational field in which they are embedded keeps shifting.

"Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

These shifts in the gravitational field are due to the fact that Pluto and its largest moon Charon happen to share a common center of gravity located in the space between them.
The oblong ( as oppose to spherical ) shape of the moons also contributes to this effect.

"Prior to the Hubble observations, nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system," said SETI's Mark Showalter who made the discovery alongside astrophysicist Doug Hamilton.

"Our research provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system."

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which has been traveling towards Pluto for more than nine years, is due to arrive in the system for its historic flyby next month.

Source: NASA.gov | Comments (11)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by OverSword 7 years ago
That video seems impossible.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Zalmoxis 7 years ago
It's because it's oblong, isn't it?
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
It's because it's oblong, isn't it? It's elongated shape is only part of the reason. If you read the article it actually tells you why this happens: 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-lik... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
Waspie - I always thought something needs mass to have a gravitational field. Does this mean Pluto and Charon wanted to be a single planet and some outside gravitation force kept/keeps this from happening?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Buzz_Light_Year 7 years ago
Planet X/Nibiru gravitational field effect. What else could it be? /sarcasm
Comment icon #7 Posted by Rlyeh 7 years ago
Waspie - I always thought something needs mass to have a gravitational field. Does this mean Pluto and Charon wanted to be a single planet and some outside gravitation force kept/keeps this from happening? No, it means their barycenter is some distance above Pluto's surface.http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/barycenter/en/
Comment icon #8 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
Waspie - I always thought something needs mass to have a gravitational field. It does. The gravitational field affecting Nix and Hydra is generated by Pluto and Charon. Does this mean Pluto and Charon wanted to be a single planet and some outside gravitation force kept/keeps this from happening? Rlyeh is correct with his comment about the barycentre, but let me explain further. When objects are in orbit around each other they orbit around their combined centre of gravity, this is the barycentre. Think of a stick with two weights on it, if one weight is much heavier than the other then the cent... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by schizoid78 7 years ago
New Horizon is less than 2 months reaching Pluto. Hopefully this spaceship (the fastest ever made) is going to give us better measurement. S
Comment icon #10 Posted by McFakename 7 years ago
Poor Pluto.... first he's downsized then he's classified as unstable.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Robert1 7 years ago
This is a very interesting article. I always liked Pluto as a planet. Despite the fact that it was demoted to dwarf planet( as if Pluto did something wrong). Maybe the New Horizons probe will change that.


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