Astronomers just keep finding more moons around Pluto. They scoped out the first and largest, Charon, in 1976; the fifth, tiny P5, was spotted just this summer by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Such discoveries are fascinating for planetary scientists, who are working to understand the complex makeup and movements of objects in the Kuiper Belt, the vast field of orbiting icy rocks beyond Neptune that includes dwarf planets like Pluto as well as smaller chunks of stuff.
But finding new moons and other stuff floating around in the outer solar system may create headaches for the team operating NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft for the space agency's mission to Pluto. The piano-sized craft is the fastest ever launched, according to this NASA release. It has been zooming away from Earth for nearly seven years, and is scheduled to make a close approach of Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015. At that point, it will have traveled 3 billion miles since leaving Earth.
Unfortunately, the more stuff floating around near the speedy spacecraft’s target, the higher the danger that it will sustain crippling damage during its explorations, scientists said at a news conference Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Reno.