Pluto's Moons Are 'Tumbling In Absolute Chaos,' NASA Says

Posted by Nate Wek, NPR on

In the NFL, something that behaves like Pluto's football-shaped moons might be called a wobbly duck. NASA simply calls them astonishing.

Instead of steadily rotating through their orbits, two of Pluto's moons "wobble unpredictably," the space agency says, citing new analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The two moons, Hydra and Nix, are the largest of the four moons that move around Pluto and Charon — the "double planet" that is the destination of next month's visit by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons is expected to provide new details of Pluto, which has never been photographed in crisp detail. For now, scientists are going over the new Hubble analysis.

"Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The moons' wobbling comes from the shifting gravitational field generated by Pluto and Charon, which together have been compared to a barbell, for the way they roll through space together.

"Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically," NASA says. "The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons."

NASA released images of Nix, which can be seen above. If you stare at the oddly shaped, gnarled moon, with its craters and swirls, you'll be forgiven for thinking it looks not just like a football but like a potato. Which raises the question: Would a nickname for these moons be pronounced plutayto — or plutahto?

subscribe to sdpb email updates food and cooking banner image learning blog link living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

The Latest From SDPB Radio News

FEMA Housing Lands On Pine Ridge Following Disaster

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is placing new mobile homes on Pine Ridge following spring storms and...

Daugaard Proposes Medicaid Expansion In $4.8-Billion Budget

Governor Dennis Daugaard is proposing a total state budget of about $4.8-billion for fiscal year 2017. You can...

Dakota Midday: Attorney General Marty Jackley Discusses 24/7

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley recently returned from the National Association of Attorneys General...

Dakota Midday: GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler

While broadcasting live from the state capitol building in Pierre, Cara Hetland visited with Kelly Hepler, Secretary...

Dakota Midday: Wink And Sutton Look Forward To Budget Address

South Dakota Speaker of the House Dean Wink and Democratic Senator Billie Sutton visited with guest host Cara Hetland ahead of Governor Dennis Daugaard's annual...

Hawks To Introduce Resolution On College Debt

One South Dakota lawmaker says she’s crafting a resolution about debt-free college. Democratic State Representative Paula Hawks says she wants to start a conversation...

Dakota Midday: Images Of The Past Potato Creek Johnny

Potato Creek Johnny is featured in this week's Images of the Past. Jessica Michak, Archivist with the HomestakeAdams...

Dakota Midday: Health Insurance Change Has Financial Consequences

Certain people who buy health insurance on the federal exchange could find themselves paying significantly more money in January if they don’t change their plans soon....

Dakota Midday: Budget And Policy Council Anticipates Budget Address

Joy Smolnisky, Executive Director, South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute discusses Medicaid expansion, Indian Health Services, education funding, and state revenue...

SD Scientists Welcome Renewable Research Boost

World leaders are meeting in Paris to hash out a new agreement on the best way to deal with climate change. As part...

The Latest from NPR News

In Birmingham, The Debate Over Confederate Monuments Is Renewed After Charlottesville

Birmingham, Ala., has a complicated relationship with racism. Some of the most notable events from the Civil Rights...

Mathematicians Could Help In Gerrymandering Legal Cases

Legal fights over racial and partisan gerrymandering are intensifying and mathematicians think they can help...

Officials Still Searching For Bodies After Deadly Mudslides In Sierra Leone

Three days after mudslides killed hundreds in Sierra Leone's capital city, government officials are still searching...

Reporter In Barcelona Describes Scene Immediately After Deadly Van Attack

Jim Kent runs an English-language radio station in Barcelona and arrived at the scene in the Las Ramblas district...

Varied Republican Response To Charlottesville Raises Questions On Legislative Ability

After their failed health care efforts, Republican lawmakers are regrouping for the coming fight this fall to...

Trump Voters Discuss The President's Comments On Confederate Monuments

As President Trump re-emphasizes his support for statues of Confederate leaders, Republican and Trump voters in...