It turns out that Pluto’s moons would like to keep any potential life forms they may be hosting guessing how, and when, each day will start. A new study has found that the dwarf planet’s outer moons are constantly fighting the joint gravitational pull of Pluto and its main moon, Charon. This in turn not only makes it hard to tell when the sun will rise again, but also from which direction.
For the study, published earlier this week, on Wednesday (June 3, 2015), researchers have taken a look at a massive amount of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and found that five (5) of the icy planet’s moons – Charon, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos – wobble unexpectedly and appear to be involved with Pluto in what looks like a chaotic dance.
John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, gave a statement saying that “Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm. When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we’ll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal”.
It’s not just one dance that they’re involved in, but a double set of dances. Mark Showalter, study author, informed that Pluto and Charon are engaged in their own little, imperfect dance, as if they were two (2) very unbalanced weights on the finish of a dumbbell that just so happens to be rotating.
The second dance takes place between Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos. The four (4) smaller moons are merely responding to what the bigger objects are doing. They circle Pluto and Charon’s waltz, and wobble when they get close to either Pluto or Charon due to them being pushed and pulled by the bigger objects.
Pluto and Charon are also referred to as a double planet because they share the same center of gravity, a space that can be found between the two (2) of them.
In addition to the (4) smaller moons moving in a precise rhythm around Pluto and Charon, and interacting with them when they’re in close proximity, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos also interact with each other when they find themselves close together.
Heidi Hammel, a planetary scientist at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who wasn’t part of the study, gave a statement explaining that that from the outside, it looks like all six (6) cosmic objects are dancing to the same song, at the same ting, but that each of them finds it appropriate to move in a radically different manner. So it’s pretty much a cosmic club scene.
Showalter said that it’s a very weird thing to have happening in the universe. He added that since the smaller moons are wobbling and flipping over chaotically all over the place, if you were to live on Nix or Hydra, you would literally not know whether or not the sun was coming up tomorrow. And if the sun did decide to come up, it would be in a different place in the sky each day.
Showalter also mentioned that while nobody used to appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system before the Hubble Space Telescope observations were made, the new findings provide a great inside into the sequence of events that led to the very formation of the system.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is expected to reach Pluto sometime in mid-July. It had a long journey that started nine (9) years ago, when Pluto was still considered a full grown planet instead of a dwarf planet, and experts expect that the spacecraft will offer even more surprising information about the icy planet.
Image Source: nyt.com.com