BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It turns out there are a lot more moons in our solar system than many of us suspected.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been finding them a long way from Earth.
Four and a half billion years ago, the solar system was a swirling jumble, forming, colliding, re-forming. The end result was the eight planets we know today, which migrated into their current orbits around the sun:
“And as they moved they basically got rid of all the small objects in the inner part of the solar system,” says Dr. John Stansberry with the Space Telescope Science Institute
The small stuff that got pushed out got pushed a long way out, to the edge of the solar system in an area called the Kuiper belt. Pluto is the largest object in the belt, with one large moon.
However, “We suspect there are about 100-thousand of them that are bigger than sixty miles or 100 kilometers across,” says Dr. Stansberry.
But some are much larger. When astronomers took another look at some earlier Hubble Space Telescope images, they spotted a moon orbiting a 950-mile wide Kuiper dwarf planet.
At 150-to-200 miles across, both moon and dwarf planet are big for their neighborhood, but their DNA may be part of ours:
Even though it’s a long way off, Kuiper belt objects have likely impacted earth.
“May have seeded the early earth with the building blocks necessary for the origins of life,” says Dr. Daniel Glavin, with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
“Delivery of water and carbon materials and all sorts of volatiles,” says Dr. Stansberry.
In what is known as the great bombardment, possibly triggered by migrating planets, sending Kuiper objects slamming into Earth, before the Kuiper belt moved further away from the sun.
Besides dwarf planets, the Kuiper belt is believed to hold trillions of potential comets.