Artist's Illustration of the Chaotic Spin of Pluto's Moon Nix

Artist's Illustration of the Chaotic Spin of Pluto's Moon Nix

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Fast Facts
News release ID: STScI-2015-24
Release Date: Jun 3, 2015
Image Use: Copyright
About this image

This set of artist's illustrations of Pluto's moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the "double planet" Pluto-Charon. This illustration is based on dynamical models of spinning bodies in complex gravitational fields – like the field produced by Pluto and Charon's motion about each other. Astronomers used this simulation to try to understand the unpredictable changes in reflected light from Nix as it orbits Pluto-Charon. They also found that Pluto's moon Hydra also undergoes chaotic spin. The football shape of both moons contributes to their wild motion. The consequences are that if you lived on either moon, you could not predict the time or direction the sun would rise the next day. (The moon is too small for Hubble to resolve surface features, and so the surface textures used here are purely for illustration purposes.)

Artwork, Hubble Telescope, Kuiper Belt Objects, Moons, Pluto, Solar System


NASA, ESA, M. Showalter (SETI Institute), and G. Bacon (STScI)