Hubble Space Telescope discovery image of Styx (circled), with the outer moons' orbits depicted. Relative to the other bodies, Pluto and Charon are shown greatly reduced in brightness.
|Discovered by||Showalter, M. R. et al.|
|P5; S/2012 (134340) 1|
Mean orbit radius
|Dimensions||10 to 25 km (assumed)|
Styx is a small natural satellite of Pluto whose discovery was announced on 11 July 2012. It is the fifth confirmed satellite of Pluto and was found approximately one year after Kerberos, Pluto's fourth confirmed satellite. Styx is estimated to have a diameter of between 10 and 25 kilometers (6 and 16 mi), and an orbital period of 20.2 days.
Styx was discovered by a team led by astronomer Mark R. Showalter, using fourteen sets of images taken between 26 June and 9 July 2012 by the Wide Field Camera 3 fitted to the Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery was announced on 11 July 2012. Styx is about half as bright as the dimmest previously known object in the system, Kerberos, and about one hundred thousandth as bright as Pluto. It was designated S/2012 (134340) 1, and informally referred to as P5.
The survey work leading to the discovery of Styx was in preparation for the mission of the unmanned New Horizons spaceprobe, currently en route to the Pluto system with flyby scheduled for 14 July 2015. The discovery of another small Plutonian moon has heightened concerns that this region of space may harbor more bodies too small to be detected, raising fears that the probe may be damaged by an uncharted body or ring as it traverses the system at a speed of over 13 km/s. Tiny moons, such as Saturn's moon Pallene, tend to be associated with tenuous rings or arcs, because their gravity is unable to hold on to material ejected by meteoroid impacts; such diffuse material represents the chief navigational hazard. Current plans call for New Horizons to pass just inside the orbit of the innermost moon, Charon, but this could be changed if observations or modeling suggest a potential threat.
The unexpectedly complex moon system around Pluto may be the result of a collision between Pluto and another sizable Kuiper belt object in the distant past. Pluto's moons may have coalesced from the debris from such an event, similar to the early giant impact thought to have created the Moon. The orbital resonances may have acted as "ruts" to gather material from the smashup.
Styx is estimated to have a diameter of between 10 and 25 kilometers (6 and 16 mi). These figures are inferred from the apparent magnitude of Styx and by using an estimated albedo of 0.35 and 0.04 for the lower and upper bounds, respectively. Because of its small size, Styx is likely to be irregular in shape. It is thought to have formed from the debris lofted by a collision, which would have led to losses of the more volatile ices, such as those of nitrogen and methane, in the composition of the impactors. This process is expected to have created a body consisting mainly of water ice.
Styx orbits the Pluto–Charon barycenter at a distance of about 42,000 km, putting it between the orbits of Charon and Nix. All of Pluto's moons appear to travel in orbits that are very nearly circular and coplanar, described by Styx's discoverer Mark Showalter as "neatly nested ... a bit like Russian dolls". Its orbital period is estimated to be 20.2 ± 0.1 days, a value about 5.4% from a 1:3 mean motion resonance with the Charon–Pluto orbital period of 6.387 days. With the other moons Nix, Kerberos and Hydra, it forms part of a remarkable 1:3:4:5:6 sequence of near resonances.
Upon discovery, Styx received the minor planet designation S/2012 (134340) 1 because it was the first satellite (S) discovered orbiting minor planet (134340) in 2012. It is known informally as "P5", meaning the fifth Plutonian moon to be discovered.
The convention for naming Plutonian moons is to use names associated with the god Pluto in classical mythology. To decide on names for P4 and P5, Mark Showalter and the SETI Institute, on behalf of the discovery team, conducted a non-binding internet poll in 2013, in which the general public was invited to vote for their favorite names. The public could choose from a selection of Greek mythological names related to the god Pluto, or could propose their own names. After the initial announcement, William Shatner, the actor who plays Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, proposed the names Vulcan and Romulus, ostensibly referring to the fire god Vulcan (a nephew of Pluto), and to Romulus the founder of Rome, but also alluding to the fictional planets of Vulcan and Romulus in the Star Trek universe. The 'Romulus' suggestion was discounted, as there is already an asteroid moon of that name, but Vulcan won the poll after Shatner tweeted about it, with Cerberus (the dog that guards Pluto's underworld) coming second and Styx (the goddess of the river with the same name in the underworld) coming third. The winning names were submitted to the International Astronomical Union. However, 'Vulcan' was unacceptable to the IAU because it was not the name of an underworld deity and had already been used for a hypothetical planet inside the orbit of Mercury, as well as having given its name to the vulcanoid asteroids.
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