Pluto may have 10 more undiscovered moons

Last Updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 16:38

New York: Pluto`s orbit may host a formation of 10 or more tiny undiscovered moons, which would each measure just 1 to 3 kilometres across, astronomers say.

This preliminary finding could make life even more difficult for the team planning NASA`s New Horizons mission, which is slated to take the first-ever up-close look at the Pluto system in July 2015.

After Pluto`s fifth known moon, a small satellite known as P5, was discovered last year, officials said they may need to redraw the spacecraft`s path to avoid such obstacles.

In the new study, astronomers led by Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used computer simulations that treat smaller particles statistically.

Once objects get above a certain size, roughly 1 km across, then the programme renders them individually - and this is when the satellites pop up.

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.

While the team can simulate these satellites, they said it`s unlikely they could be spotted, if they exist, from Earth.

The brightness of the potential objects dance with the edge of the Hubble Space Telescope`s capabilities, Kenyon said, and they are likely beyond the reach of even the most sensitive ground-based telescopes, such as the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

New Horizons might be able to spot smaller satellites before it gets there, but Kenyon said he wasn`t sure when the objects would appear big enough for the spacecraft to detect.

The satellites would be "easily visible" during the spacecraft`s closest approach to Pluto in 2015, researchers said.

The study was submitted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 16:38

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