Los Angeles: Scientists announced on Wednesday about the finding of the smallest yet fifth moon circling the dwarf planet Pluto.
The smallest moon was discovered by a team of scientists who used the Hubble Space Telescope to explore Pluto’s neighborhood ahead of a NASA spacecraft, New Horizons, scheduled to arrive in 2015.
“We’re not finished searching yet," said Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, who thinks there may be more lurking.
The newfound moon which is known as P5 until it gets a proper name - appeared as a faint fleck in the Hubble images. The mini-moon is estimated to be 6 to 15 miles across, smaller than the still nameless one that scientists spotted last year, which is 8 to 21 miles wide. P5 could help shed light on how the Pluto system formed and evolved.
While, Pluto’s largest moon, the 650-mile-wide Charon, was discovered in 1978, its two smaller moons, Nix and Hydra, were found in 2005.
The moons are considered to have formed after an ancient collision between Pluto and an object in the Kuiper Belt, a disk teeming with small bodies that lies beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Names for the new moon and last year’s discovery will not be proposed until the team finishes analyzing the Hubble data in case there are more hidden moons, said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute.
Showalter also said that he favors names that go together - like the mythological Greek couple Orpheus and Eurydice.
“If we happen to find more moons, then we will have to pick a different story from Greek mythology,” he said in an email.
Pluto, which was discovered in 1930 by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh was regarded as the ninth planet in the Solar System. However, it was recategorised as a ‘dwarf planet’ due to the discovery that it is only one of several large bodies within the Kuiper belt.
With Agency inputs
First Published: Thursday, July 12, 2012, 12:10