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?

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COMMENTS (39)
  • SeanK-3
    6/12/2015 - 12:20 p.m.

    Around Pluto, there are five moons going around it very near it. It is dangerously close to Pluto and is close to hitting it. These moons are smaller than pluto even though Pluto is small in size. I woukd want to see this through a telescope because it is cool and interesting.

  • Devlinw-Der
    6/12/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

    This does not sound good what if Pluto's moons spun out of orbit then it might become a giant meteor and knock into earth I say we blow it up in case.

  • Fernanleeisthebest
    6/19/2015 - 11:22 a.m.

    Did you know that Pluto is the Rome version of Hades. I am very sad because the planet Pluto was turned into a dwarf planet because it is the tiniest planet

  • PamelaLara
    6/30/2015 - 07:36 p.m.

    The last article talk about the moons that dance around Pluto
    Theres a chaotic dance going on at the far end of our solar system. It involves Pluto and five of its closest friends.
    Its largest moon Charon and tinier moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos show the odd rhythmic gyrations of the six distant objects. Its like a dance. But it is unlike anything in our solar system.
    What makes it so odd is that theres a double set of dances going on. First, Pluto and Charon are locked together in their own waltz.
    But Pluto and Charon arent alone. And thats 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.
    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, study author, Showalter said.
    NASAs $700 million New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the Pluto system in mid-July. It has been on a nine-year 3 billion mile fight. It began before Pluto was demoted to dwarf-planet status.
    I think that is beautiful how the moons dance around Pluto. The form that it move without crash between them.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why are the moons movements referred to as a dance?
    Because the movement that realize the moons is how a dance around the Pluto and anything moon in the solar system show in the rotation.

  • Sofiafuentealba
    7/09/2015 - 08:49 p.m.

    People from an institute of California studied the particular movement of Pluto and his tiny moons, they are like''dancing'' and moving around Pluto. Pluto and Charon are in a certain synchrony and the other moons, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos move around them, and they have a particular rhythm and movement that they seem to be synchronized, but they are just doing their thing and doesn't have the same ''beat'', also NASA sent a spacecraft that will arrive in Pluto in mid-July.

    I like that all those little moons around Pluto move at a certain rhythm that they seem to be synchronized, it's beautiful and mysterious, also i liked the idea of Pluto being a planet, too sad that now it's not

    Because they all go in their own way and at a certain time, and it's seems like they are dancing around Pluto

  • frankfuentealba
    7/10/2015 - 10:17 p.m.

    The text talks about how at the end of our solar system Pluto and its moons "dance" together, because they are very close to each other and they are coordinated but at the same time they are very unpredictable. I think this is an impressive article because I didn't know that the scientists were studying Pluto as much as they do, it's pretty amazing. I think the scientists talk about this as a "dance" because the moons have a determinate orbit and they move around the planet and it's a very strange and beautiful performance.

  • Alvarol97
    7/11/2015 - 12:57 a.m.

    Summary: this topic is about Pluto and its moon, and Pluto have another 4 tiny moon and they are in a type of dance around Pluto.
    Personal thinking: I think this does not sound good what if Pluto's moons spun out of orbit then it might become a giant meteor and knock into earth I say we blow it up in case. It's very dangerous that they are dancing.
    Critical thinking challenge: Because they are moving around Pluto together as they're dancing with Pluto without stop.

  • GrantBRed
    7/21/2015 - 07:27 p.m.

    Dear April Flynn and Grant Beckenhauer Tuesday July 21,2015.
    I'm sorry for Mean Grant is sing for Talent show Teacher Chris Newel watch Grant sing I see you Talent show are you watch grant next week on Saturday July 25th. Grant get ready for date you Lunch at 12:45- 1:38pm. Grant is Bike riding at Night. Bye Becky and Grant Beckenhauer. From Bonnie Beckenhauer and Rick Don Stidger.

  • zue-eri
    9/10/2015 - 05:57 a.m.

    Moon is just moving on it's way, so it's like dancing on it's own.

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