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New moon on Wednesday: Pluto's tiny fifth moon is half the length of Malibu

This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto. The green circle marks the newly discovered moon, designated P5, as photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on July 7.
This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto. The green circle marks the newly discovered moon, designated P5, as photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on July 7. Photo: NASA; ESA; M. Showalter, SETI Institute

A far-out fifth moon has been discovered orbiting the distant "dwarf planet" Pluto -- the one-time planet planet demoted by Caltech's Kavali Prize-winning astrophysicist Mike Brown.

With the use of the Hubble telescope, a team of scientists spotted the smallest moon yet around Pluto, NASA announced Wednesday. 

"The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls," team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. said in a space agency release.

The mini-moon, estimated to be 6 to 15 miles across, will be called P5 until a catchier name is decided upon. P5 is even smaller than last year's discovery of moon number four, measured at 8 to 21 miles wide. Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is about 650 miles across.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is speeding toward the icy object with a planned flyby in July 2015 (Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet when the craft launched in 2006).

The Pluto team is "intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites," notes the release, and they intend to use this new data to help navigate New Horizons which will be traveling past the dwarf planet at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour.

Says NASA, "New Horizons could be destroyed in a collision with even a BB-shot-size piece of orbital debris." 

VIDEO BONUS: Today is Wednesday, but you're still allowed to enjoy Duran Duran. (Double bonus: Simon Le Bon and the boys are playing in town August 11 @ Pacific Amphitheatre).

With contributions by AP

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