NASA’s Hubble Telescope reveals that the dwarf-planet Pluto has some seriously weird moons which tumble around in absolute chaos instead of behaving according to the expectations of Earthlings. The observation is deemed to be highly surprising and raises several questions related to the formation of our solar system.
Pluto has four moons called Kerberos, Styx, Nix and Hydra. They’re thought to behave in an eccentric manner because they’re within a gravitational field that shifts all the time. This is because Charon, which is also classified as a satellite of the dwarf planet, is part of a binary system along with Pluto.
Charon and Pluto have a common center of mass and cause the shifts in the gravitational field. What’s more, the moons circling Pluto are said to be shaped like footballs rather than spheres, adding to the chaotic movements. Mark Showalter from the SETI Institute in Mountain View (California) and Doug Hamilton from the University of Maryland at College Park have submitted these findings for publication in the journal Nature.
Three of the moons ringed around Pluto are said to be locked together in resonance. There is a precise ratio for their orbital periods, which means an observer on Nix would notice Styx going around Pluto two times for every three orbits by Hydra. Unlike this frozen trio that is as bright as sand, Kerberos is quite unusually asphalt-black in color. But meteorite crashes should have lent all the moons a homogeneous appearance.
We’ll have more information on Pluto, its chaotically tumbling moons and the Kuiper belt when NASA sets its New Horizons space probe on this mission in July. It now seems chaos may be a common trait of binary systems. So this means we know nothing of what alien life might look like and scientists may need to stop defining ‘habitable environments’ in relation to what living things on Earth can survive.