JUN 03, 2015 11:11 AM PDT

Pluto's Moons Found to Orbit in Odd Ways

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is getting ever-so-close to its rare fly-by event in July, and as it gets closer, information regarding Pluto's moons is slowly revealing itself.

Recent information uncovered by the Horizons spacecraft reveals a lot of chaos surrounding the moons of Pluto. All five of them have an almost clockwork orbital movement to them relative to each other due to the gravitational forces at work.

We say ‘almost,' because it's not a perfect movement. There is some give in the movement, as Dr. Mark R. Showalter of the SETI Institute of California explains in a statement about a recent study on Pluto's moons.

"That is not exact, which means it is actually not a resonance at all," Dr. Showalter said. "Resonance is not like a game of horseshoes where close counts. You're either in a resonance or you're not."

Pluto's moons dance around Pluto in a near-resonance-like pattern.

Pluto, with its largest moon Charon, both work together as more of a binary planet system. What this means is that the two masses are always locked in a fixed aspect to one another while they orbit the Sun. If you were standing on Pluto and looking at Charon, you would always see the same face of Charon, and vice versa.

This strange dance causes the smaller moons of Pluto to react in what scientists are calling a "chaotic" movement that is pretty miraculous in that they don't crash into teach other; they all move in a nearly synchronous motion, dodging one another in their orbit.

The moons of Pluto having an odd shape, unlike the Earth's moon, which has a much rounder surface to it, also affects the gravitational forces on the moons and causes abnormal rotational movements relative to the gravitational forces around it.

Douglas Hamilton, a professor of astronomy from the University of Maryland, is also involved in the study involving the strange orbital relationships of Pluto's moons. Hamilton says that each of the moons actually depend on one another to keep their orbits in the chaotic environment that they're in without running into each other and that binary planet systems probably aren't very friendly to life.

"The resonant relationship between Nix, Styx and Hydra makes their orbits more regular and predictable, which prevents them from crashing into one another," Hamilton explains. "This is one reason why tiny Pluto is able to have so many moons. We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems. It might even have consequences for life on planets orbiting binary stars."

The same study involving the moons of Pluto also found out that Kerberos, unlike the other moons, is almost as black as charcoal, which inhibits its reflective characteristics of sunlight. On the contrary, Pluto's other moons are much whiter, much like ours.

More information regarding Pluto's moons will be gathered as NASA's Horizons spacecraft moves in closer on Pluto in the coming weeks. The fly-by is scheduled for July 14th.

Source: Washington Post, Nature

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAY 01, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Giant elliptical galaxies are not likely to hold intelligent life
MAY 01, 2020
Giant elliptical galaxies are not likely to hold intelligent life
A previous paper published in 2015 theorized that giant elliptical galaxies would be 10,000 times more likely than spira ...
JUL 19, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Engineer Human Cartilage in Space
JUL 19, 2020
Scientists Engineer Human Cartilage in Space
Russian cosmonaut, Oleg Kononenko, has successfully carried out an experiment to engineer human cartilage in microgravit ...
JUL 20, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Do Astronauts Have Fun in Space?
JUL 20, 2020
How Do Astronauts Have Fun in Space?
Scientists who inhabit the International Space Station (ISS) typically have 12-hour shifts. These include two and a half ...
JUL 25, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Mammalian Cells May Have Trouble Fighting Space Bugs
JUL 25, 2020
Mammalian Cells May Have Trouble Fighting Space Bugs
New research has suggested that humans and other terrestrial mammals might have trouble identifying and responding to mi ...
SEP 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
A Missing Piece of the Dark Matter Puzzle
SEP 13, 2020
A Missing Piece of the Dark Matter Puzzle
Most matter, and about a quarter of the mass-energy in the universe is thought to be made of dark matter, but we still d ...
SEP 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
What the Sun's New Weather Cycle Means for Earth
SEP 17, 2020
What the Sun's New Weather Cycle Means for Earth
Scientists have confirmed that the sun is nine months into a new solar cycle, and that this 11-year cycle will resemble ...
Loading Comments...