back to article Hubble spots Pluto's moons are a chaotic mess of tumbling rock

Astronomy fans are still split over whether it was right to declassify Pluto as a planet in 2006 and call it a dwarf. Now the latest data from the Hubble Space telescope shows that the distant rock-ball is far weirder than we first thought. Pluto has one large moon, dubbed Charon after its discovery in 1978, and the two orbit …

  1. ashdav

    Anyone else think that Nix looks like a potato ?

    My first impression anyway.

    1. Mark 85

      I was thinking the same thing and you beat me to it.. have an upvote for being quick on the keyboard.

      1. Matthew Smith

        > "I was thinking the same thing and you beat me to it.. have an upvote for being quick on the keyboard."

        So your comment was Nixed.

    2. hplasm

      That's is no moons...

      That's is a dwarfes's - oh never minds...

    3. mr.K

      NO PHOTO FOR YOU (yet)

      However, I doubt that is a photo, or a photo of Nix.

    4. TeeCee Gold badge

      "That's no moon, it's a potato."

      "It's too big to be a potato."

    5. AbelSoul

      Re: looks like a potato ?

      So that explains where these guys come from.

    6. Doctor_Wibble

      Pluto, the never-ending source of argument

      First it can't make up its mind if it's the outermost or not, then it causes arguments because someone thinks it's not big enough, and now we face turmoil as the flames of the 'potayto-potahto' schism are fanned anew, bringing us yet again to the brink of worldwide destruction. Who knew? I had always thought it was going to be the religious nutters.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Call it whatever you like

    The science is awesome!

  3. richardcox13

    > "We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,"

    Someone needs to go back to school. The Three Body Problem has been known as long as gravity: Newton covered it in Principia…

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,"

      There is a difference between a problem being too difficult to solve with the mathematics of the day, and chaotic behaviour (which afaik wasn't identified till the 20th century.)

      1. Torben Mogensen

        Re: "We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,"

        Actually, the three-body problem IS chaotic in the modern, mathematical sense. There are non-chaotic three-body configurations (for example, when several small bodies orbit a much larger mass in near-circular orbits), but the general problem is chaotic. Smaller moons closely orbiting two large co-orbiting bodes are almost bound to be a chaotic system.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Don Dumb

            Re: "We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,"

            @Betacam - "The 3 body problem is why physicists rarely indulge in threesomes." - Well, that's what they would say.

            Like many problems physicists deal with, finding reasons to reject threesomes is very much a theoretical exercise.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Never mind the orbits

    That's a bloody odd-shaped moon - what's the physics behind that? Passed too close to a black hole before it set?

    1. Vulch

      Re: Never mind the orbits

      It's a guess. There's enough evidence to tell they're not spherical and none of the four small moons have enough self-gravity to make them that way, so they're going to look like mid-sized asteroids.

    2. Shrimpling

      Re: Never mind the orbits

      My guess is it will look nothing like this when the photos get sent back.

      Remember the artist impressions of 67P before Rosetta got there? Those were based on the Hubble images too.

  5. Data Mangler

    Or perhaps...

    It may be the egg of an enormous mutant star goat. It's time to give those telephones one last wipe before boarding the 'B' Ark.

    1. Sealand

      Re: Or perhaps...

      They're eggs allright, but nothing sinister. Pluto is simply spawning.

      1. hplasm

        Re: Pluto is simply spawning.

        Dog eggs?

        1. Hud Dunlap

          Re: Pluto is simply spawning.

          Turtle eggs.

          The great A'tuin.

          Although I am not sure where the Elephants come from.

  6. Tom 7

    What the hell happens when it hatches?

    Dr Who is quite prescient really....

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: What the hell happens when it hatches?

      Urghhh!!! Sorry, but please accept a downvote for reminding me of that episode.

  7. leon clarke

    Rugby Balls

    I'm impressed that someone from the University of Maryland recognises the moons as rugby-ball shaped. I would have feared that people from near Maryland would mistake them for American Football shaped moons.

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Rugby Balls

      Doug Hamilton's ball identification skills are quite astute. American football balls have more pointy ends.

    2. cray74

      Re: Rugby Balls

      Rugby, among other things, is a common subject for experimentation in US universities. Football players who have spent their childhood and teenage years throwing around a "pigskin" particularly seem to like to dabble in rugby because of the commonality in the sports. As I understand, rugby is faster and easier to play as "pick up" game because you don't need 50lbs of armor to play it, though US football players sometimes need a pre-game warning to tackle differently.

      Unlike soccer, rugby hasn't picked up the same pre- and post-university following and professional clubs, but someone at a US university is more likely to be aware of it than elsewhere in the US.

      1. Kaltern

        Re: Rugby Balls


        Not Soccer.

  8. cray74

    Not the odd one out?

    I wouldn't chalk up Kereberos to being an oddball capture yet. The other moons have bright surfaces because of post-formation modifications, but the amount of hydrocarbons and other carbonaceous materials in the system would make it easy for Kereberos to have been heavily doused like Iapetus from a large impact on another moon.

  9. Matthew 17

    What if the mass of the New Horizons probe affects the delicate orbit

    And destabilises the whole system?!!!

    Humans will be accused of destroying other worlds 8)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: What if the mass of the New Horizons probe affects the delicate orbit

      dont worry the chaotic moons will just enter the inner solar-system and polish us off like the dinos

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Saturn to has chaotic moons too... and the Register should know!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It's postulated that Pluto was once much larger and suffered an impact that formed Charon and most of the chaotic moons around the dwarf planet."

    I still want to know why Neptune's orbit isn't as far out as Pluto's average orbital distance: this would validate Titius-Bode. I suspect something happened out there a long time ago, some big collision. Maybe a chunk from that collision bumped into us... and gave us the Moon.

    1. cray74

      "I still want to know why Neptune's orbit isn't as far out as Pluto's average orbital distance: "

      See: Nice Model. The planets didn't settle down into a primate-pleasing, mathematically-simple arrangement because they're the result of chaotic collapse of an interstellar cloud of gas and dust. Our pre-solar cloud initially collapsed into a very different pattern than is observed today and the planets gradually migrated into the current configuration.

      "this would validate Titius-Bode."

      No, it wouldn't. Having the solar system set up in the pattern of Titius-Bode would be a single case of Titius-Bode working - a coincidence not repeated elsewhere. Titius-Bode is not repeated in the moon systems of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto, nor in any of the observed extra-solar planetary systems.

  12. The last doughnut

    Uranus is also strange, having its axis of rotation inclined at 89 degrees.

    Personally I'm very excited about seeing the results from New Horizons.

    Please feel free to snigger/make jokes about the name I still don't want to see yours thanks.

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