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 at the far end of our solar system. It involves Pluto and five of its closest friends, a study finds.

Hubble Space Telescope images of Pluto, its largest moon Charon and tinier moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos 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 of 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 of 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 as giving 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. If at all on some days, 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 46 times


COMMENTS (39)
  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    6/09/2015 - 02:23 p.m.

    I think that it is cool to have Pluto have its own moons. Pluto now has companions and isn't alone far in the galaxy. I think that is was a good thing to send that Hubble telescope take pictures of Pluto because if it was never released in space, then we wouldn't have known that Pluto has moons around it and friends. Pluto should be happy now because it is always dancing with its moon friends. All of the moon are dancing with Pluto and they are always having fun. I think that someday, someone will reach Pluto and see the moons with their own eyes and live to tell the story.

    Critical thinking challenge: Why are the moons' movements referred to as a dance? They are referred as a dance because they move like how people dance and how they are constantly moving around like a dance.

  • MaxM-4
    6/09/2015 - 08:47 p.m.

    Pluto, its largest moon Charon and tinier moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos move extremely weirdly. Pluto and Charon are solar system's only binary planet system, even though neither technically a planet. The four moons that circle the Pluto and Charon wobble when they go closer to either and when they near each other. The way the moons wobble would cause the sun to come up in different parts of the sky on Nix and Hydra.
    I thought this was very interesting because I love astronomy. I knew that Pluto and Charon orbited each other, but I didn't know what the moons do.

  • JohnL-4
    6/09/2015 - 10:56 p.m.

    Pluto and five nearby moons are all so small and close together, their gravity is pulling everything in crazy different orbits. Four of the moons orbit Pluto and Charon in a rhythmic pattern, but also doing their now thing, sort of like a waltz. A new spacecraft from NASA will arrive by Pluto in July, and the spacecraft has traveled about 3 billion miles in nine years. I think it is quite amazing how scientists are able to track signals that far away from Earth.

  • MargaretZ-5
    6/09/2015 - 11:13 p.m.

    When the planets move around the moon its almost like a dance, they move in a way that is safe and also can orbit faster around the moon rather than the sun. When pluto is around the moon, scientists have figured out that it moves faster rather than the average planet.

  • MichaelaJ-3
    6/10/2015 - 12:39 a.m.

    There's a chaotic dance going on at the far end of our Solar System, where Pluto is. 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. It's the solar system's only binary planet system, even though Charon isn't technically a planet. Pluto, too, is no longer considered a full planet. I think that this is pretty cool how scientist can compare this to a dance.

  • citlallis6503
    6/10/2015 - 06:56 a.m.

    I think that all of this about Pluto's moons is really amazing and since a spacecraft is going to Pluto anyways, it would look really cool when they get there because since all the moons are "dancing" it would be a sight to see.

  • Ethangh-Par
    6/10/2015 - 08:08 a.m.

    I thought was very very strange that the planets were like dancing. That is probably the least of what I expected out of a tween tribune article

  • Nikolas-Par
    6/10/2015 - 08:12 a.m.

    It's cool how Pluto has 5 moons, Charon is the biggest one. I like the name hydra, it's one of the moons names. Nix is also one of the moons.

  • Eduardo-Par
    6/10/2015 - 08:14 a.m.

    That's amazing planets dancing around other planets I have never new that other planets Danses around the world to that's just crazy but just wow wow

  • Malcolm-Par
    6/10/2015 - 08:14 a.m.

    I always thought that Pluto has one moon. After I read this article , now I know Pluto has five moons. I'm glad I read this article.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT