A

David

Darling

moons of Pluto

Pluto and its five known moons

Pluto and its five known known moons. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute).


Pluto has five known moons. The innermost of these and by far the largest is Charon, discovered in 1978. All four of the smaller moons were discovered from observations by the Hubble Space Telescope: the first two, Hydra (S/2005 P1) and Nix (S/2005 P2), in 2005, the third, S/2011 P3, in 2011, and the fourth S/2012 P4, in Jul 2012. All the moons move in retrograde, coplanar, and nearly-circular orbits around Pluto. Nix, S/2011 P3, and Hydra appear to be in 1:4:5:6 orbital resonances, respectively, with the Charon-Pluto orbital period.

 

The latest moon to be found, P5, is 9 to 24 km (6 to 15 miles) across and moves in a circular orbit, about 47,000 km (29,500 mi) in radius, between the orbits of Charon and Nix. It was discovered during a telescopic survey of the Pluto system for potential hazards to the New Horizons probe which arrives at the dwarf planet in three years time.

 

moon semimajor
axis (km)
orbital
period (days)
orbital
eccentricity
orbital
inclination (o)
diameter
(km)
Charon 17,536 ± 3 6.387 0.0022 0.001 1,207 ± 3
S/2012 P5 ~47,000 - ~0 - 9 – 24
Nix 48,708 24.85 0.0030 0.195 46 – 137
S/2011 P3 ~59,000 32.1 ~0 ? 13 – 34
Hydra 64,749 38.21 0.212 0.006 61 – 167