The name Hydra was announced on June 21, 2006, in IAU Circular 8723, along with the formal designation Pluto III. The name is that of the Hydra, the nine-headed serpent which battled Hercules in Greco-Roman mythology. The nine heads of Hydra are a reference to Pluto's tenure as the ninth planet; its initial, H, refers to the Hubble Telescope which discovered Hydra and, together with Nix, to the New Horizons mission whose safe passage was the motivation for taking the Hubble images.
Labeled image of Hydra released upon IAU name approval
The satellite orbits the barycenter of the system in the same plane as Charon and Nix, at a distance of about 65,000 km. Unlike other satellites of Pluto, its orbit is only nearly circular; its eccentricity of 0.0052 is small, but significantly non-zero. Its orbital period of 38.2 days is close to a 1:6 orbital resonance with Charon, with the timing discrepancy being 0.3%. Whether this is an actual resonance awaits more detailed determinations of its orbit, in particular its rate of precession. If there is no actual resonance, a hypothesis to explain the near-resonance is that it originated before the outward migration of Charon following the formation of all five known moons, and is maintained by the periodic local fluctuation of 5% in the Pluto–Charon gravitational field strength.
Although its size has not been directly measured, calculations based on its brightness give it a diameter of between 61 km (if its geometric albedo is similar to Charon's 35%) and about 167 km (if it has a reflectivity of 4% like the darkest Kuiper belt objects). At the time of discovery, Hydra was about 25 percent brighter than its sister moon Nix, which led to the assumption that its diameter was some 10 percent larger. Pre-discovery data from Hubble observations in 2002–03 implied that Nix was the brighter moon. However, Hubble observations in 2005–06, specifically targeting the dim moons, once again showed Hydra to be a little brighter. Hydra appears to be spectrally neutral like Charon and Nix, whereas Pluto is reddish.