Watch: Pluto's Egg-Shaped Moon Nix Does a Cosmic Tilt-a-Whirl

Thursday, 04 June 2015 - 3:14PM
Astronomy
Solar System
Thursday, 04 June 2015 - 3:14PM
Watch: Pluto's Egg-Shaped Moon Nix Does a Cosmic Tilt-a-Whirl
Pluto and its moons have been largely a mystery to the scientific community, mostly as a result of sheer distance. But with New Horizons gearing up for its first flyby next month, researchers have been taking an interest in the faraway dwarf planet, and particularly the idiosyncratic, chaotic behavior of its five tiny moons, particularly the egg-shaped Nix. In a new paper published in Nature, astronomers detail some of the oddest known planetary behavior, as Nix jerks, tilts, and rolls like a nausea-inducing amusement park ride:

Watch: Pluto's Egg-Shaped Moon Does a Cosmic Tilt-a-Whirl
Watch: Pluto's Egg-Shaped Moon Does a Cosmic Tilt-a-Whirl

"If you lived on Nix, you would not know if the sun is coming up tomorrow; it is that extreme," lead author Mark Showalter told Space.com. "You'd have days where the sun rises in the east and sets in the north." As a result, the length of Nix's day is constantly changing as well.

"We are learning that chaos may be a common trait of binary systems," said co-author Douglas Hamilton. "It might even have consequences for life on planets orbiting binary stars."



This odd behavior will likely be confirmed very soon, as NASA's New Horizons is gearing up for its first flyby of the former ninth planet of our solar system on July 14, at which time it will also observe Pluto's moons. It has already taken the first pictures of Pluto's smallest moons, Nix and Hydra, and during the July encounter it is expected to send back detailed images of their surfaces.
Science
Space
Astronomy
Solar System

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