Thursday, June 4, 2015

NASA Says Plutos Moons in Chaos

Cool story that, unfortunately, made me think of Three Body Problem.

NASA reported yesterday that 

If you lived on one of Pluto’s moons, you might have a hard time determining when, or from which direction, the sun will rise each day. Comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably.

Pluto’s moon Nix
This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon.
Credits: NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI)
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.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, says that when the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July, NASA will get an "up close and personal" view of what the moons look like.

Discoverers Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View California and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park also found that three of Pluto's moons are locked together in resonance, i.e. have a precise ratio for their orbital periods.

“If you were sitting on Nix, you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra,” noted Hamilton.
Hubble data also reveal the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other frozen moons are as bright as sand. It was predicted that dust blasted off the moons by meteorite impacts should coat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogenous look, which makes Kerberos’ coloring very surprising.

Comparative brightness of Pluto’s moons
This illustration shows the scale and comparative brightness of Pluto’s small satellites. 
The surface craters are for illustration only and do not represent real imaging data.
Credits: NASA/ESA/A. Feild (STScI)

Cool Stuff!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! I do read all of the comments and want to let you know that I really appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to leave a note. Work has fallen in on me and I have not had enough time to reply coherently lately so I apologize preemptively but still want to assure you that your comments are valued. I am using comment moderation to avoid using more annoying spam avoidance. Thanks for your patience.