NASA Stumbled Across Pluto's Moons Doing A Strange, Erratic Dance, Just Like You On Saturday Nights — PHOTO
Of all the mind-blowing and breathtaking images NASA's Hubble telescope has captured over the years, this might be one of the most crazy. On Wednesday, NASA published a story revealing that the Hubble caught two of Pluto's moons dancing in an erratic manner with absolutely no rhythm (the same thing would be found if Hubble pointed into my bedroom on most nights). This ungraceful movement is the result of the gravitational field created by Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon, which scientists have lumped together as a double planet. Think of the gravitational field being like a rope and the two planets' gravitational pulls yanking the moons like an interstellar tug of war.
The two moons caught on Hubble were Nix and Hydra, which scientists discovered tumble unpredictably rather than rotating in unison with the host planet. However, they do move in steady paths in their larger orbits.
John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement:
Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm.
Douglas Hamilton, a co-author on the study and a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, explained the phenomenon in different terms, telling The Guardian:
Like good children, our moon and most others keep one face focused attentively on their parent planet. What we’ve learned is that Pluto’s moons are more like ornery teenagers who refuse to follow the rules.
The reason these moons move in such a chaotic way is because they're situated in a constantly shifting gravitational field created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon. Though Charon is technically Pluto's largest moon, scientists have labeled them a double planet because they share a common center of gravity. In addition to the fluctuating gravitational field, the two moons are more oval-shaped than spherical, which only exacerbates their tumbling.
They speed up and slow down, rock their north pole towards the planet and back again and maybe even reverse direction. It would be a pretty confusing system to be in.
The study, which was authored by Hamilton and Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, will be published in the June 4 issue of Nature.
Pluto's terrible dancers are not the only jaw-dropping image that Hubble has captured. Take a look at some of the most stunning images caught on the telescope.