High Albedo Points To Huge Collision Forming Plutonian System

Data from New Horizons supports the theory that Pluto's 4 small moons were formed as a result of a collision. Image by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The high albedo (reflectivity) of some of Pluto’s moons supports the theory that those moons were formed as a result of a collision, rather than being Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) that wandered too close and were captured by Pluto’s gravity. Data supporting the collision theory came from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by Pluto in July 2015.The Pluto system is a complex one. Pluto has 5 moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Charon is the only moon that is tidally locked with Pluto, and the two are sometimes called a double dwarf planet. The system’s barycenter lies between Pluto and Charon, though much closer to Pluto. The objects in the system move in near-circular orbits, rather than ellipses.Pluto and Charon were thought to have formed the same way the other planets formed in the Solar System; by coalescing out of a ring of debris left over after the Sun formed. Then, it was thought, the other Plutonian moons were captured from the Kuiper Belt. Pluto resides in the Kuiper Belt, so this made sense. Some of the other moons in our Solar System, like Neptune’s Triton and Saturn’s Phoebe, are also thought to be captured Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).A competing theory for the formation of the Pluto system is the collision theory. This theory states that Pluto and Charon did indeed coalesce out of the ring of debris around the Sun, and that Charon was itself a dwarf planet. But a collision occurred after that, about 4 or 4.5 billion years ago, between Pluto and an object about the same size as Pluto.This collision left Pluto and Charon in their binary state, but created a circumbinary disk of debris out of which the other 4 moons formed. There are competing versions of these theories, one of which —> Read More