Hubble Discovery: Pluto has a Fourth Moon

Pluto System, Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, SETI

Another exciting discovery from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made headlines today as it detected a fourth moon orbiting Pluto. Although Pluto was “demoted” to an icy dwarf planet in recent years, it still remains an object of interest for NASA as it lies at the far reaches of our Solar System. The Hubble Space Telescope captured two images approximately one week apart from one another that showed four moons orbiting the planet using its Wide Field Camera 3.

The new moon has been temporarily named P4, and it has an estimated diameter 8 to 21 miles (13 – 34 km) according to HubbleSite. P4 completes an orbit around Pluto nearly every 31 days. It joins the three other known moons of Pluto: Charon (the largest with a diameter at 746 miles), Nix, and Hydra. Nix and Hydra were discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2005. P4 was not originally identified in previous images because the exposure times were shorter.

This new information is especially exciting for NASA because the New Horizons mission is currently on its way out to Pluto and will pass through the area in 2015. Hubble has been used to assist with the planning for the New Horizons mission as it has helped map the surface of Pluto as well as discover these satellites orbiting the dwarf planet. With this new information, the New Horizons mission can plan a close encounter of the moon and send back further observations.

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