Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Science faces 'dangerous times' - BBC

"Sadly, for many, the response is to retreat from complexity and difficulty by embracing the darkness of fundamentalist unreason"
Lord May of Oxford

Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 00:05 GMT
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Science faces 'dangerous times'
By Helen Briggs BBC News science reporter

Fundamentalism is hampering global efforts to tackle climate change, according to Britain's top scientist.

In his final speech as president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford will say scientists must speak out against the climate change "denial lobby".
He will warn core scientific values are "under serious threat from resurgent fundamentalism, West and East".
Lord May completes his five-year term as president of the UK's academy of science on Wednesday.
"Ahead of us lie dangerous times," he will say in his fifth and final anniversary address.
"There are serious problems that derive from the realities of the external world: climate change, loss of biological diversity, new and re-emerging diseases, and more.
"Many of these threats are not yet immediate, yet their non-linear character is such that we need to be acting today.
"And we have no evolutionary experience of acting on behalf of a distant future; we even lack basic understanding of important aspects of our own institutions and societies.
"Sadly, for many, the response is to retreat from complexity and difficulty by embracing the darkness of fundamentalist unreason."

'Denial lobby'

Lord May will say that fundamentalism applies not only to organised religions but to lobby groups on both sides of the climate change debate.
The climate change "denial lobby" and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) opposed to nuclear power are not exempt from a denial or misrepresentation of scientific facts, he told reporters in London.
Speaking in a week that saw the opening of climate talks in Montreal, and the re-opening of the nuclear power debate in the UK, he said there had to be open questioning and inquiry of such issues.
The huge problems with nuclear power had to be weighed against the problem of putting more carbon into the atmosphere and the future potential of land and sea turbines, he said; "rather than ruled out of discussion on what you might call some fundamentalist belief system".

'No easy recipe'

Another danger to the enlightenment of science came from the growing network of fundamentalist and lobby groups in the US that campaigned for creationism to be taught in science classes, he added.
"By their own writings, this group has a much wider agenda which is to replace scientific materialism by something more based on faith," he said.
He called on scientists to take a more active role in speaking out against so-called "intelligent design" and other threats to modern scientific values.
"The only thing I can see scientists doing is being more energetic as citizens - getting out there and trying to convince people that that's not a very wise way to behave," he explained. "That's no easy recipe."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Japanese probe lands on asteroid - BBC

Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 02:37 GMT

Japan's Hayabusa space probe has made a successful landing on an asteroid, the Japanese space agency says.
But it is as yet unclear whether the spacecraft has collected samples from the surface of the asteroid Itokawa.
The spacecraft was on a mission to collect samples and return them to Earth in the summer of 2007.
It is Hayabusa's second attempt at landing on the asteroid after its initial mission failed to collect surface material.
Jagged edge

Officials at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the probe had touched down on Itokawa last Sunday despite an initial announcement of failure.

But controllers lost contact with the probe for about three hours after it had manoeuvred to within several metres of the space rock. The craft had also apparently failed to drop equipment to collect samples.
The data shows Hayabusa bounced off the asteroid's jagged surface more than once, but was not damaged and spent about 39 minutes resting on it.
The probe is designed to fire a metal pellet into the surface. After the firings, Hayabusa is supposed to take off to collect the dust ejected by the impact.
Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and has until early December before it must leave orbit and begin its 290m km (180 million-mile) journey home. It is expected to return to Earth and land in the Australian outback in June 2007.
Examining asteroid samples is expected to help unlock secrets of how celestial bodies were formed because their surfaces are believed to have remained relatively unchanged over the ages, unlike those of larger bodies such the planets or moons.
Itokawa is 690m (2,300 ft) long and 300m (1,000 ft) wide and has a gravitational pull only 1/100,000th that of Earth's. The asteroid is located at a distance of 290m km (180 million miles) from our planet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Vatican Astronomer: Intelligent Design is Not Science - Live Science

Vatican Astronomer: Intelligent Design is Not Science
By Nicole Winfield
Associated Pressposted: 18 November 2005
02:03 pm ET

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design'' isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate raging in the United States.
The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design ideas alongside the theory of evolution in school programs was "wrong'' and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.
"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be,'' the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.''
His comments were in line with his previous statements on "intelligent design'' -- whose supporters hold that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation -- camouflaged in scientific language and say it does not belong in science curriculum.
In a June article in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, Coyne reaffirmed God's role in creation, but said science explains the history of the universe.
"If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly,'' he wrote.
Rather, he argued, God should be seen more as an encouraging parent.
"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,'' he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves.''
The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI waded indirectly into the evolution debate by saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project'' and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.
Questions about the Vatican's position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis.'' Schoenborn said the late pope's statement was "rather vague and unimportant.''

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pandora's Color Close-up - NASA / JPL

Cassini's best close-up view of Saturn's F ring shepherd moon, Pandora, shows that this small ring-moon is coated in fine dust-sized icy material.
Craters formed on this object by impacts appear to be covered by debris, a process that probably happens rapidly in a geologic sense. The grooves and small ridges on Pandora (84 kilometers, or 52 miles across) suggest that fractures affect the overlying smooth material.
The crisp craters on another Saturn moon, Hyperion, provide a contrasting example of craters on a small object (see PIA07740).
Cassini acquired infrared, green and ultraviolet images on Sept. 5, 2005, which were combined to create this false-color view. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 52,000 kilometers (32,000 miles) from Pandora and at a Sun-Pandora-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 54 degrees. Resolution in the original image was about 300 meters (1,000 feet) per pixel. The image has been magnified by a factor of two to aid visibility.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit The Cassini imaging team homepage is at
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Water Could Stay Liquid on Mars -

Water Could Stay Liquid on Mars
By Bjorn CareyStaff Writer
posted: 15 November 200506:22 am ET

From the shoreline of an ancient salty sea to the bottoms of deep, flood-carved channels, Mars is scarred with geological signs that indicate liquid water once flowed on the its surface.
These findings, combined with the discovery of tiny, spherical "blueberries" and the detection of water ice in the planet's polar ice caps, have lead scientists to scour the planet for liquid water in recent years.
The elusive quarry has remained hidden, possibly because it may not exist for more than a fleeting second. Due to Mars' low temperatures and extremely low atmospheric pressure – less than a hundredth that of the Earth– pure water evaporates from ice to gas so quickly that it skips the liquid phase.
But now, new research by a team of scientists at the University of Arkansas suggests that liquid water could persist for some time on Mars, so long as it is salty.

In the lab

Using a planetary environmental chamber – a tank that mimics the atmosphere, temperature, and pressure of other planets – the team exposed various concentrations of briny water to conditions that match Mars' colder, less pressurized environment. Based on these experiments, salty water, it seems, can exist as liquid on Mars.
"It was thought that any liquid on the surface would evaporate almost immediately," Julie Chittenden, a graduate student with the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences told "These brine solutions enable water to stay liquid at colder temperatures. If you expose these brine solutions to cold temperatures, they can exist for a very long period of time."
While pure water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, water mixed with sodium chloride and calcium chloride salts – the two salts used in these experiments – remains liquid down to -21 and -50 degrees Celsius respectively.
Because salty water can exist as liquid at colder temperatures than pure water, it won't make the jump from ice to vapor as quickly, giving it a better chance of existing as liquid on the surface or just below it. Average Martian temperatures range between -125 degrees and 28 degrees Celsius at various latitudes at different times during the day, and the salty test samples stayed liquid within the range.

The key

The key to staying liquid is to stave off evaporation, which occurs when the molecules in a liquid are excited to a state where they bump into each other until they break the liquid's surface and turn into gas. The best way to do prevent evaporation is to keep the molecules from becoming excited, and the best way to do this is to cool the liquid.
For example, a cup of water placed outside in the middle of summer will evaporate much quicker than the same water on a mid-winter day.
"Colder temperatures are what suppress evaporation," Chittenden said. "There's a huge decrease in the evaporation rate the colder it gets."
If liquid water is discovered, there is a good chance it may not sit right at the surface. NASA's Mars rover Opportunity discovered signs that salty liquid once existed only after digging a small trench in the Martian soil.
So, having completed this series of direct atmosphere contact experiments, Chittenden and her colleagues have begun investigating whether ice melts to liquid or jumps straight to gas when placed beneath a layer of simulated Mars soil in the planetary environmental chamber.

This research is detailed in an upcoming issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Water Once Filled Mars Opportunity Rover Landing Site
Salty Sea Covered Part of Mars: 'Excellent' Site to Search for Past Life
Mars Express Confirms Water Ice on Red Planet
Politics of Water: Ancient Sea on Mars Begs Human Exploration
NASA announces discovery of evidence of water on Mars

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Three moons and a ring - NASA/JPL

Original Caption Released with Image:
This excellent grouping of three moons -- Dione, Tethys and Pandora -- near the rings provides a sampling of the diversity of worlds that exists in Saturn's realm.
A 330-kilometer-wide (205 mile) impact basin can be seen near the bottom right on Dione (at left). Ithaca Chasma and the region imaged during the Cassini spacecraft's Sept. 24, 2005, flyby can be seen on Tethys (middle). Little Pandora makes a good showing here as well, displaying a hint of surface detail.
Tethys is on the far side of the rings in this view; Dione and Pandora are much nearer to the Cassini spacecraft.
Dione is 1,126 kilometers (700 miles) across. Tethys is 1,071 kilometers (665 miles) across and Pandora is 84 kilometers (52 miles) across.
This image was taken in visible blue light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 22, 2005, at a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers (800,000 miles) from Saturn. The image scale is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) per pixel on Dione and Pandora and 9 kilometers (6 miles) per pixel on Tethys.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit The Cassini imaging team homepage is at

Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hardy lichen shown to survive in space -

Incredible stuff... A plant is left in space for 15 days... and survives!


Lichen is actually two types of creature, rolled into one – the algae provides the fungi with food while the fungi offer the algae a cosy living environment (Image: L Sancho)

Hardy lichen shown to survive in space
17:16 10 November 2005 news service
Kelly Young

Lichens can survive unprotected in the harsh conditions of space, a European Space Agency experiment discovers.
The organisms are a composite of algae and fungi. They are commonly found on the surface of rocks on Earth and can survive in extreme conditions such as high mountains latitudes. Lichens are the most complex form of life now known to have survived prolonged exposure to space.
In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen – Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans – were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket on 31 May 2005.
Once in Earth orbit, the lid of the container opened and the samples were exposed to the space environment for nearly 15 days before the lid resealed and the capsule returned to Earth.
The lichens were subjected to the vacuum of space and to temperatures ranging from -20°C on the night side of the Earth, to 20°C on the sunlit side. They were also exposed to glaring ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.
“To our big surprise, everything went fine after the flight,” says Rene Demets, ESA’s project scientist for the Foton project. “The lichens were in exactly the same shape as before flight.”
Hitching a ride
In space, the lichens turned dormant and did not metabolize, but once returned to Earth, they returned to their normal activity and their DNA appeared not to have been damaged, Demets told New Scientist. All of the lichen appeared to endure the ultraviolet radiation, even those receiving the most exposure.
Lichens have a tough mineral coating that could shield them from UV rays. They are also made from individual organisms layered on top of one another, so outer layers may provide protection for underlying cells. The organisms have already been shown to be capable of withstand high levels of UV radiation on Earth.
The experiment adds weight to the theory of panspermia – that life could somehow be transported between planets, perhaps by hitching a ride on an asteroid. It also indicates that organisms similar to lichens might be able to survive on the surface of Mars – at least during the planet's summer.
Symbiotic relationship
Although the Martian atmosphere is very thin, it is filled with carbon dioxide, which is necessary for lichens’ photosynthesis. The lichens might not survive on Mars for long, however, because of low oxygen levels in the atmosphere.
In the 1980s, experiments carried out on NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility satellite showed that certain bacteria are hardy enough to endure space. Rocco Mancinelli, a microbial ecologist with the SETI Institute in California, who has also done experiments with micro-organisms in space, says he is not surprised to see lichens survive outside the Earth's atmosphere.
The algae and fungi that make up lichens exist in a symbiotic relationship. The algae provide the fungi with food while the fungi offer the algae a cozy living environment.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

NASA Dawn Asteroid Mission Told To ‘Stand Down’ -

The "asteroids" Ceres and Vesta are called "baby planets"! Well done! The only thing wrong is they could even be designed as "grown-up" planets...
How sad if the Dawn mission is cancelled.


NASA Dawn Asteroid Mission Told To ‘Stand Down’
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 07 November 2005
08:34 am ET

A NASA mission to two of the largest asteroids in the solar system being readied for liftoff next year has been placed in “stand down” mode.

The ion-engine propelled Dawn mission is dedicated to investigating the two most massive asteroids known: Vesta and Ceres. These two “baby planets” are very different from each other yet both offer tantalizing clues about the formation of the solar system. Dawn is designed to improve scientific understanding of how planets formed during the earliest epoch of the solar system.

Dawn has been on NASA’s books for liftoff in mid-June 2006.

The decision to stand down, according to sources, appears related to budget-related measures and workforce cutbacks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Extremely robust mission

“Yes…NASA has asked us to stand down,” said Dawn’s principal investigator, Christopher Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “None of us take this as any indication that they [NASA Headquarters] do not want to launch Dawn,” he told, given “strong words of support” from space agency personnel in Washington, D.C.

Russell said that Dawn is an extremely robust mission. The particular launch opportunity that the spacecraft mission is heading for is extremely long—over a year long, he noted.

“This is both a blessing and a curse,” Russell said. “Typically a planetary mission heading to a launch opportunity has a very limited time for any delays. In this case, we can tolerate delay in launch without science impact, and so when someone wishes to review an issue to gain more confidence that it is completely resolved then it may result in increased expenditures but not loss of the mission,” he added.

Russell said that there are a number of technical issues that on a chemical launch would be examined in parallel to development, “but in this case we were asked to stand down while an independent assessment team reports back to headquarters. This has interrupted the final preparations for launch and we wish that they had not done this, but it is something we can tolerate.”

Econo-class mission

Dawn is a NASA Discovery-class mission, selected in December 2001. The goal of the Discovery program is to launch many smaller missions with fast development times, each for a fraction of the cost of NASA’s larger missions. Such spacecraft missions are designed to tackle important questions in science yet do it for a very modest cost.

Dawn is managed by JPL with Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Virginia developing the spacecraft.

Earlier this year, the Dawn spacecraft began Assembly, Test and Launch Operations (ATLO). Spacecraft integration and testing of Dawn has been progressing very well, according to Tom Fraschetti, JPL’s Dawn Project Manager in a status update last month that was posted on the Dawn project website.

Ceres, the mini planet

The importance of spacecraft exploration of Ceres, for instance, was recently underscored by astronomical study of the object.

In September it was announced that observations of Ceres made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope revealed that the object may be a “mini planet”—perhaps loaded with large amounts of pure water ice beneath its surface.

“Ceres is an embryonic planet,” noted Lucy McFadden of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. She is a member of the team that made the Hubble observations, and is also a member of the science team on the Dawn mission.

“Gravitational perturbations from Jupiter billions of years ago prevented Ceres from accreting more material to become a full-fledged planet,” McFadden explained in a press release announcing the observations, issued by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

More violence in France today - Canadian Press

This is one of the best (i.e. realist) article I've read today.


More violence in France today
Jocelyn Gecker
Canadian Press

Monday, November 07, 2005

France's riots are not a social movement

No need to quote any media reports. France (my native country) is experiencing the worst urban unrest since the student uprising of 1968.

I have been mostly away from France for the past 8 years. I could say that I "lost touch" with this country in a way. Yet, I spent most of my youth and my student years in the Paris area.

Urban violence has been widespread for decades. Fortunately, civilians cannot own firearms in France, so this violence is rarely deadly. Urban violence has been such a routine that newspapers don't mention it.

The scale of the unrest seems to suggest that it is some kind of "revolution" with very deep roots. Most media likes to say that North-African and West African immigrants live in low-income housing suburbs where unemployment is widespread. Everything is true yet they are missing the point.

Most French youth of my generation had bad experiences with gangs of teenagers. The first victims of these gangs are their neighbours - who are themselves working-class. The upper class children live in privileged areas and don't suffer much from this form of violence.

I've seen these teenage gangsters assault girls in student parties, I've seen others starting a fight and destroying a disco. Petty crimes are also widespread.

When interviewing some of these teenagers, reporters were surprised to hear that they were "having fun", "playing with the police". They also focused their hatred on Mr. Sarkozy, the French minister of interior. This minister only vowed to deal with criminals, but he also vowed to introduce US-style "affirmative action". He even recently said that foreign nationals who were working in France deserved the right to vote when city councils have to be elected (they can't elect the parliament). He also vowed to deal with unemployment by reforming the French labour market. Does he look like the enemy of ethnic minorities? I don't think so.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Japan's Hayabusa Closes in on Asteroid Landing Site -

Stunning imagery is being returned by Japan’s Hayabusa space probe as it draws closer to its celestial target: asteroid Itokawa.

Now just a few miles distant from the space rock, the spacecraft is poised for an historic attempt to collect and return a specimen to Earth from such an object. Imagery from Hayabusa is being used by Japanese scientists to target potential touchdown sites on the rocky world.

Hayabusa was rocketed into space from Japan’s Kagoshima Space Center on May 9, 2003 and is a project of that country’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), a space science research division arm of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Hayabusa arrived at its exploration target, near Earth asteroid Itokawa, on September 12, propelled there via ion engines and an Earth swing-by to put the probe on a heading toward Itokawa.

First rehearsal, then for real
JAXA space engineers are readying Hayabusa for a November 4 “rehearsal descent” – a practice run that is expected to verify procedures for a first touchdown of the probe on the asteroid on November 12. A second touchdown of the craft is slated for November 25.
Ground controllers are carefully monitoring onboard fuel reserves to attempt the historic landings.
In addition, loss of two of Hayabusa’s reaction wheels – needed to help delicately maneuver the spacecraft – spurred new control strategies to be devised by ground control engineers.
Along with sampling duties, Hayabusa will dispatch a tiny robot onto the space rock that hops about while relaying images.
Tiny lander
The ultra-small 1.3 pound (591 grams) device lander is dubbed MINERVA – short for MIcro/Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid. This small hopping robot lander totes along a set of color cameras. Two of the tiny cameras can produce stereo images of the surface conditions at the landing area of MINERVA. A third camera is mounted on the robot to scan more distant regions of the asteroid’s surface and can operate while the lander moves from spot to spot.
Hayabusa is a remote sensing mission, plus a lander and a sample return effort. With its cache of asteroid specimens, Hayabusa’s return capsule would return to Earth in June 2007, headed for a parachute deployment and landing in the desert of Woomera, Australia.
The samples of Itokawa brought back to Earth by Hayabusa could provide the first direct evidence of the link between asteroids and meteorites, Japanese space scientists point out.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Two More Moons Discovered Orbiting Pluto -

Isn't this great that such a small planet have many moons? Will this discovery force a rethink about some "Kuiper Belts Objects" being called "planets"? How much more evidence do we need before it becomes obvious the our current definition of a planet is too narrow?
Welcome to the "100 planets" solar system! Let's speculate that they are dozens of objects bigger than Pluto...


Two More Moons Discovered Orbiting Pluto

By Robert Roy BrittSenior Science Writer
posted: 31 October 200501:01 pm ET

Two small moons have been discovered orbiting Pluto, bringing the planet's retinue of known satellites to three and leaving scientist to wonder how it could be.
The newfound moons orbit about 27,000 miles (44,000 kilometers) from Pluto, more than twice as far as Charon, Pluto's other satellite. They are 5,000 times dimmer than Charon.
Preliminary observations suggest they are in circular orbits around Pluto and in the same plane as Charon, said Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
"That suggests they probably formed at the same time as Charon," Weaver told in a telephone interview Friday. NASA planned a teleconference with reporters Monday at 1 p.m. ET to announce the discovery.
While scientists had predicted there might be more moons, the newfound setup is surprising nonetheless, in part because Pluto is smaller than our own Moon.
"It's almost like a mini solar system," Weaver said. "How can something about 70 percent the size of Earth's Moon have all these satellites? How can that happen? We're going to have to explain that."
The leading theory for the formation of Charon involves a large object striking Pluto. The debris from that collision could have formed the two smaller moons, Weaver speculates. It can't be ruled out that they might have been captured into the system, but that seems very unlikely, he said.
The two new moons are between 30 and 100 miles (45 to 160 kilometers) in diameter, Weaver said. There is not enough data to pin their size down exactly, however. Pluto is 1,430 miles wide and Charon's diameter is about 730 miles.
The moons were found using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Piece of the puzzle

The discovery represents one more piece of an increasingly complex puzzle in the outer solar system, a place that astronomers look to for clues in understanding how it all formed 4.5 billion years ago in the wake of the Sun's birth.
Lately, so many objects have been found in so many configurations out there, that astronomers can't even agree on what to call them.
Though popularly considered a planet, Pluto is now viewed by most astronomers to be a member of the Kuiper Belt, a vast sea of frozen worlds beyond Neptune that hadn't been discovered when Pluto was found 75 years ago. The region includes other round objectswith moons, and one recently discovered world is larger than Pluto.
For now, Pluto is the only Kuiper Belt object known to have more than one companion.
"Our result suggests that other bodies in the Kuiper Belt may have more than one moon as well," said team co-leader Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Stern heads up the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, slated for launch early next year. He had long predicted other moons around Pluto.
There could be more moons to find, too, but they would be small.
"These Hubble images represent the most sensitive search yet for objects around Pluto," said team member Andrew Steffl of the Southwest Research Institute, "and it is unlikely that there are any other moons larger than about 10
miles across in the Pluto system."

Easy to find

The moon-hunting project was denied by Hubble planners several times and took years to get approved, and only then after a failed instrument on Hubble last year caused project leaders to add several previously unaccepted observing programs to fill the schedule.
For Hubble, this one was easy.
Unlike many observing projects that require several Hubble orbits – often 15 or more and sometimes many dozens -- Weaver's team needed just two orbits. On the first set of observations they spotted the two points of light, then on the second orbit they found them again and made sure they moved against the background of relatively fixed stars.
The presumed moons are 23rd magnitude, far to dim to be seen with a typical backyard telescope but "relatively easy to see with Hubble," Weaver said.
Then the astronomers dug up old Hubble observations done by colleague Marc Buie of the Lowell Observatory, to see if the same objects had been imaged before.
Weaver said they are pretty sure they've located the moons in the archived photos, and the combination of data is what suggests the moons' circular orbits in the plane of Charon's path.
More Hubble observations are planned for February to confirm the discoveries and pin down the orbits.
The moons are catalogued as S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2 for now. Once they are confirmed, the discoverers will suggest names, to be approved by the International Astronomical Union.
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