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)