Pluto May Have Ten More Teeny Tiny Moons

Poor little Pluto could have a dozen moons and some rings, and yet it still isn’t a planet

Pluto and three of its moons, Charon, Hydra and Nix. Photo: International Astronomical Union

In the past few years observant astronomers have found two more moons for the non-planet that is Pluto. But that wave of discovery may not be over just yet. Based on new research  by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Scott Kenyon and the University of Utah’s Benjamin Bromley, Pluto may have a small pile of moons just waiting to be found.

“The potential moons,” says Elizabeth Howell for “arose in a simulation looking at how Pluto’s known small satellites came to be.”

It’s hard to say how many there are, the researchers said, as it’s difficult to simulate collisions among these tiny satellites. There could be anywhere from one to more than 10 objects lurking beyond Hydra’s orbit.

The New Horizons satellite, currently on its way to Pluto, should be able to help figure it out. The new moons would be small, say the scientists in their study, with radius of just 1 to 3 kilometers. But, “detecting these satellites and the disk from the ground is very challenging. If they are present,” they write, “New Horizons should detect them easily.”

The scientists’ model of what Pluto’s orbit could look like, with the new moons and a light disc of smaller debris. Photo: Kenyon and Bromley

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