Once thought to be the Ninth and the farthest planet in the solar system, Pluto is a dwarf planet which is a part of the Kuiper Belt. Pluto’s status as a planet was even questionable ever since the day it was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh via telescope. Pluto, like Uranus and Neptune, cannot be seen by the naked eye and powerful telescopes are needed to see it clearly. It is officially the first ever object to being discovered from the Kuiper belt by mankind. Let’s divulge into some of the interesting facts about Pluto.
Some Unknown Interesting Facts about Pluto – Amazing
Classification as a Dwarf Planet
Pluto was demoted to the status of a dwarf planet mainly because of the discovery of Eris in 2005 and also because there were two or three more dwarf planets discovered beyond Pluto. The classification of Pluto as a dwarf planet came into reason as the planet was exceedingly small to be called as such with other similar bodies being discovered in the Kuiper Belt.
Not the Closest Dwarf Planet
One of the most interesting facts about Pluto is that it is not the closest dwarf planet. It is officially the second closest dwarf planet to the Earth. Astronomers found that it was not that different than the largest object, Ceres, in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter which is 945 km in diameter. Ceres and planets like Pluto are mainly categorized as dwarf planets because of their varying orbits and inability to clear debris around their immediate space like the other eight planets in the solar system.
Plutoids are the ice dwarf planets that reside in the trans-Neptunian space along the Kuiper belt. These are all celestial bodies beyond Neptune that orbit the sun and also are massive enough to be round. These ice dwarfs are named after the former planet Pluto as it is one of those trans-Neptunian Dwarf planets.
Kuiper Belt is an orbital zone in space beyond Neptune, and it is filled with icy rocks and debris. The biggest reason that Pluto was demoted as a dwarf-planet was that there are hundreds of thousands of bodies similar to Pluto that is more than 100 kilometers in diameter and roundish in shape; in the Kuiper Belt. Kuiper Belt has over a trillion comets apart from the Plutoids and the debris.
Another one of interesting facts about Pluto is that it also orbits the sun in a completely different direction than the other eight planets. These other planet’s orbits make the solar system seem akin to a disc. While other planets have somewhat consistent distance from the Sun during their orbit, Pluto’s distance from the sun varies greatly over the course of its revolution on the account of its highly elliptical orbit.
The Eris Discovery
If it weren’t for the discovery of Eris in 2005, the debate about Pluto’s legitimacy as the Ninth Planet would never have been made. When Eris was discovered, for a brief moment in time, scientists considered it to be the tenth planet in the solar system and the news channels were bombarded with its discovery. Eris was first thought to be bigger than Pluto. Eris is 1,445 miles in diameter and Pluto was thought to be 1,400 miles. However, it is now considered as the largest dwarf planet with a diameter of 1,474 miles.
New Horizons Probe
Very little was known about the dwarf planet until its very first probe in 2015. NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft mission in January 2006, and it took over nine years for the spacecraft to reach the planet. The probe corrected the previously incorrect assumption of Pluto’s size as it was found to be 3% larger than its assumed size. One of the most interesting facts about Pluto is that at the time of New Horizons’ launch, it was still classified as a Planet, and its status changed months after the probe was launched. Come to think of it, if Pluto was de-merited as a planet a year or two before the New Horizons mission may not have been sanctioned by NASA.
Despite its humble size, Pluto still has a total of five natural satellites aka moons orbiting it. The largest moon Charon is half its size with a whopping 750 miles in diameter. The other four moons are more like asteroid bodies than a regular moon, but they do orbit the Pluto. Hydra is the second largest with only 34 miles in length. Next comes Nix at 26 miles. Until 2005, Pluto was known to only have the single moon Charon, and then Nix and Hydra were discovered. Pluto only had three moons till 2011 when scientists discovered Kerberos using Hubble telescope. It has two lobes of 5 and 3 miles in length. Styx was discovered in 2012 with an irregular shape and a length of just 4.5 miles. Scientists anticipated that the New Horizon Probe will discover more moons, but none other was spotted.
Charon is more than half the size of Pluto at 750 miles. It is more massive than Pluto as the barycenter of the point that they orbit around is located outside Pluto. Pluto is one-third ice because of which it is very dense. Charon and Pluto are tidally locked like the Moon and Earth because of which only one side of Charon is visible to Pluto at all times. Because they orbit around each other, and their small size difference, Charon, and Pluto are often considered as twin dwarf planets and often referred to as double dwarf-planets.
Pluto has an Atmosphere
Despite being so far away and being in the Kuiper Belt, Pluto has a thin layer of atmosphere which was once considered to be impossible before the 2015 NASA probe. The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, and it is thin because the gas is spread out in the space because of the solar winds and constant debris collisions. Pluto also has traces of methane around 160 kilometers above its surface. The gasses form a dark covering over Pluto by turning into a solid state when Pluto moves farther away from the Sun.
To Be Named by a Child
Like all of the other planets except for Earth that is named after either a Roman or a Greek God, Pluto is named after the Greek God of the Underworld. You heard right. Pluto is just a later name for the God of the Underworld, Hades; the bad guy in the Hercules movie. One of the most interesting facts about Pluto is that its name was suggested by an eleven-year-old child named Venetia Burney.
Not a Single Orbit Completed
When Pluto was discovered, it was classified as Planet mainly because it orbited the sun like the other eight planets. In fact, it was nearly discovered in 1905 because of its eccentric orbit as the odd deviations caused in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune led astronomer Percival Lowell to believe there was another planet. Lowell even predicted Pluto’s location very accurately in 1915 but died without ever finding the dwarf planet. Since its official discovery in 1930 by Tombaugh, Pluto hasn’t even completed a single orbit around the sun. It takes Pluto around 246 years to complete a single orbit around the sun. One of the amazing facts about Pluto is that because of its eccentric orbit, it crosses the orbit of Neptune at one point and becomes closer to the Sun than Neptune for around 20 earth years in its orbit.
There are so many things that are yet to be discovered about Pluto and other planets like it, and we will be happy to share more facts with you about them.