Moons dance around Pluto This illustration depicts Pluto and its five moons from a perspective looking away from the sun (AP photos)
Moons dance around Pluto
Lexile

There's a chaotic dance going on. It is at the far end of our solar system. It involves Pluto and five of its closest friends. This is according to a study.

The information comes from the Hubble Space Telescope. It captured images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon. It also captured its tinier moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos. They show the odd rhythmic gyrations of the six distant objects. It's like a dance. But it is unlike anything in our solar system.

What makes it so odd is that there's a double set of dances going on. First, Pluto and Charon are locked together in their own waltz. It is "as if they are a dumbbell" with a rod connecting them. That is according to study author Mark Showalter. He works with the SETI Institute in California. It's the solar system's only binary planet system, even though Charon isn't technically a planet, he said. Pluto, too, is no longer considered a full planet.

"It's pretty darn weird," Showalter said.

But Pluto and Charon aren't alone. And that's where it gets more complicated.

The four little moons circle the Pluto-Charon combo. They wobble a bit when they go closer to either Pluto or Charon. They are being pushed and pulled by the two bigger objects.

Those four moons orbit Pluto-Charon in a precise rhythmic way. But there is a twist. They also interact when they near each other. So it seems like they all dance to one overarching beat. But not quite in the same way. They are just doing their own thing, said planetary scientist Heidi Hammel. She works at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

"It's kind of like you'd see at a Grateful Dead concert," Hammel said. She wasn't part of the study. But she praised it. She said it provides a glimpse of what might be happening in other distant star systems where there are two stars and planets that revolve around them. It is like the mythical Star Wars world of Tatooine.

With the tiny moons wobbling and flipping over in an unpredictable and chaotic way, if you lived on Nix or Hydra, the sun would come up in different parts of the sky. And some days not at all, Showalter said.

"It's a very strange world," he said. "You would literally not know if the sun is coming up tomorrow."

NASA's $700 million New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the Pluto system in mid-July. It has been on a nine-year 3 billion mile flight. It began before Pluto was demoted to dwarf-planet status.

Critical thinking challenge: Why are the moons movements referred to as a dance?

Assigned 24 times


COMMENTS (12)
  • John0724-YYCA
    6/09/2015 - 04:20 p.m.

    That is really weird if Pluto and Charon is so close to each other and there are four moons surrounding them like they are dancing. The thing is that it is so weird that Pluto and Charon is attracting the four moons and when they are coming near they either come close or go back and they keep on repeating in a different way. Also the other weird thing is that the sun doesn't appear much in the dwarf planet.

  • william1108-yyca
    6/09/2015 - 04:26 p.m.

    it looks cool to look through a telescope like that. I can see tons of different planets. I wish I had one. But it would actually be cool if I were in space and I saw many different kinds of planets. But I wonder what makes a telescope look up to Pluto. It is so cool!

  • annabel1226-yyca
    6/24/2015 - 10:10 p.m.

    That is impossible. How can a moon dance around pluto.

  • Mixicofre
    7/09/2015 - 10:49 a.m.

    According to this article, at this time there is a chaotic dance at the far end of our solar system. This is Pluto and five of his closest friends. This information comes from the Hubble Space Telescope. Captured images of Pluto and its large moon Charon. He also captured his Styx tiny moons, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos. They show the odd rhythmic twists of six distant objects. It's like a dance, but different. What makes it strange is the fact that there is a double set of dances. Pluto and Charon are locked in their own waltz, like a dumbbell, that according to study author Mark Showalter, who works with the SETI Institute in California. Pluto and Charon are not alone. And that's where it gets more complicated; The four small moons orbiting Pluto and Charon are pushed and pulled by the two largest objects. These four moons orbiting Pluto-Charon rhythmically precise, but also interact close to each other, it seems that dance to a general. They are just doing their own thing, said planetary scientist Heidi Hammel. She works at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
    "It's kind of like you'd see on a Grateful Dead concert," Hammel said. She was not part of the study. But she praised him. He offered a vision of what could be happening in other distant star systems where two stars and planets revolve around it. It's like the mythical world of Tatooine Star Wars. With staggered and turned tiny moons unpredictable and chaotic way, if you live in Nix and Hydra, the sun would come out in different parts of the sky. And some days, not at all, Showalter said.
    "It's a strange world," he said. "You literally would not know whether the sun is coming up tomorrow."
    $ 700 million New Horizons spacecraft NASA arrive at Pluto system in mid-July. It has been a nine-year flight 3 billion miles. It started before Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why the movements of the moon known as a "dance?"
    I think the movement of the moons seem a dance because the way they move and unique and complex, and the way they move in orbit seems a dance for those who observe.

  • pedrovildosola
    7/09/2015 - 09:49 p.m.

    Because they don't have a particular way to move. This is because the gravity force exerted by the big corpses (planets, but we can't call them planets because they aren't) do that the smaller bodies have a small deviations. And, we can't say that "the bigger corps" are really big, no they aren't. So, in general, as this corpses aren't so big, they are attracting each other in different ways, and it's for that they are "as dancing between them".

    It's very curious. I never heard something like that before, but it's interesting because this can explain other similar things that are happening in other universe's place.

  • william1108-yyca
    7/14/2015 - 02:11 p.m.

    REBUTTAL:

    Annabel I disagree with you. You didn't even write enough. And I don't think it said dancing. SO read carefully and do it correctly

  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    7/15/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    REBUTTAL:
    Annabel, when the moons dance around Pluto, it means that they are positioned in a way that looks like it is in a dance movement. You didn't even read the article and you just wrote a comment about the title. That is a bad thing to do because when you do that, you are cheating. And why are you writing only one sentence answers? Are you cheating on Tween Tribune. You know that everyone can see your comment so you can't hide anything.

  • william1108-yyca
    7/16/2015 - 03:59 p.m.

    REBUTTAL: Annabel I disagree with you that the moon can't dance around Pluto. You need to write more longer and you also need to read the article carefully. And in the article it said that the moon can actually dance around Pluto. And your supposed to say that you never knew that the moon could dance around Pluto not it is impossible for the moon to dance around Pluto. So read carefully and write your comments correctly.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    7/21/2015 - 06:26 p.m.

    REBUTTAL:
    Annabel, the moons around Pluto are positioned in a way so that they look as if they are dancing. The image was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope so that it was proof when Pluto and its moons were "dancing". It is a mystery to us.

  • John0724-YYCA
    7/22/2015 - 04:53 p.m.

    REBUTTAL:
    Annabel I disagree with your comment because they used the phrase dance to describe what was happening. The gravity of Pluto was attracting the moons and pushing them back so it looked like it was dancing. I think that you didn't read the article at all but only read the title.

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