- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — Pluto has three moons, not one, new images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest.

Pluto, discovered as the ninth planet in 1930, was thought to be alone until its moon Charon was spotted in 1978. The new moons, more than twice as far away as Charon and many times fainter, were spotted by Hubble in May.

Although the observations have to be confirmed, members of the team that made the discoveries said yesterday that they were confident about their data.

“Pluto and Charon are not alone; they have two neighbors,” said Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Follow-up observations by the Hubble are planned in February. If they are confirmed, the International Astronomical Union will consider names for the objects.

Early last month, another group of astronomers, which said it had discovered the 10th planet in the solar system, also said that body had a moon. It has not been confirmed whether the group had discovered a new planet.

Both Pluto and the new, so-called planet are found in the Kuiper Belt, a disc of icy bodies beyond Neptune. About a fifth of the objects observed in the region have been found to have satellites, said Keith Noll, an astronomer at the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute. The institute coordinates use of the orbiting telescope, but Mr. Noll wasn’t part of the Pluto team. He thinks the Pluto team’s findings are convincing.

Mr. Weaver said Pluto would be the first Kuiper Belt object found to have multiple satellites. Depending on how reflective the surface of the moons are, the new finds are estimated to be 30 to 100 miles across, he said.

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