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A team of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a fifth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. Pluto’s new-found moon, visible as a speck of light in Hubble images, is estimated to be irregular in shape and between 10 and 25 kilometres across. It is in a 95 000 kilometre-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to lie in the same plane as Pluto’s other known moons.

“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, USA, leader of the scientific team that discovered the new moon.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favoured theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978. Hubble observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra. In 2011 another moon, known as P4, was found in Hubble data.

Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, or P5, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on 26, 27 and 29 June, and 7 and 9 July 2012.*New Horizons, a NASA space probe, is currently en route to Pluto, with a high-speed flyby scheduled for 2015. It will return the first ever detailed images of the Pluto system, which is so small and distant that even Hubble can barely see the largest features on its surface.

In the years following the New Horizons Pluto flyby, astronomers plan to use the infrared vision of Hubble’s planned successor, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, for follow-up observations. The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study the surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons, and many other bodies that lie in the distant Kuiper Belt along with Pluto.


How can something that is not a planet (according to many) have a new moon? Or any moons? Moons only orbit planets. If it isn't a planet then I would think there would be a requirement for consistency in this decision.

Moon/Satellite - a natural body that revolves around a planet.

Very disappointed in the behaviors of the modern astronomy and scientific communities the past few years.

I do realize it is a 'dwarf planet' as categorized by IAU, but we do not count it as a planet in our solar system any longer. Are dwarf planets (or planetary-mass objects) permitted to have moons by definition? Has the definition of a moon been 'changed' to include being classified as also being capable of revolving around all dwarf planets, planetoids or planetary-mass objects?

I wonder if this is an angular width record? Seeing Pluto is a feat in itself. The sun and the moon are both 1/100th of a radian. This moon must be a milliionth of a rad or less.

The dwarf planet has quite a few moonletts -

Shows how planets form, little by little more rock impacts/comes together under gravity growing in mass until it become a planet.

Even asteroids have moons, so having moons does not make you a planet. Planet is just a label, if we make Pluto a planet then we have to make many of the hundreds of Trans Neptunian Objects a planet.

It gets confusing very fast. Pluto is still Pluto and being the first TNO makes it special. Don't get sucked into the "is Pluto a planet" political fight. It is meaningless.

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