Once considered the 9th major planet of our Solar System, Pluto has now been reduced to the state of a dwarf planet. This historic demotion took place in 2006 when scientists figured out that it is a Kuiper Belt object. This did invite controversies but as of date we have learned to accept Pluto as a dwarf planet and not a major planet. So, let us today learn interesting facts about this celestial object which, despite its astronomical distance from Earth, has managed to spark a cold war among the scientists of our home orb!
Interesting Pluto Facts: 1-10
1. Hints of Pluto’s existence was first discovered by Percival Lowell, an American astronomer. He observed that Uranus and Neptune have odd orbital deviations, which straight away suggested that there was something beyond Neptune that was exerting a gravitational tug.
2. Lowell went on to predict the location of this unknown object in 1915 but before he could find out the object, he died.
3. 15 years later the object was finally discovered by Clyde Tombaugh using the predictions that were made by Lowell and some other astronomers. He discovered this celestial body from Lowell Observatory.
4. It was not any astronomer or a scientific community that named this celestial body but rather, it was Venetia Burney – a 11-year old girl who suggested the name. Burney suggested to her grandfather that the body should get its name from Roman god of underworld and should be named as Hades. Pluto is actually another name of Hades.
5. Burney’s grandfather passed on the message to Lowell Observatory and the object was named Pluto. Interestingly, the name Pluto also contains the initials of Percival Lowell.
6. Scientists are not very sure about the size of Pluto because of its huge distance from Earth. Scientists guess that it is 2/3rd the width of Earth’s moon or less than 1/5th of Earth’s diameter.
8. Hubble Space Telescope found evidences that complex organic molecules may be present on the crust of Pluto. Scientists also guess that beneath the icy crust, frozen methane and nitrogen may also be present.
9. The orbit of Pluto is not at all circular. It is eccentric. This simply means that the object’s orbit often takes it inside Neptune’s orbit and its distance from Sun varies considerably from time to time.
10. When Pluto travels close enough to Sun, the ice on its surface evaporates and forms an atmosphere, which because of low gravity of Pluto, rises very high is space. As Pluto travels away from Sun, the atmosphere freezes but never disappears completely. The frozen atmosphere falls back on its surface as snow. Because Pluto does have an atmosphere, chances of strong winds being present on Pluto is also possible.
Interesting Pluto Facts: 11-20
11. One of the coldest known places in our Solar System is Pluto. Scientists say that the surface temperature of Pluto is -225⁰C or -375⁰F. Images taken by Hubble Space Telescope shows the planet to be yellowish, grayish and reddish in places with bright spots appearing close to the equator suggesting the presence of carbon monoxide frost.
12. Pluto’s orbit is extremely elliptical. The farthest it goes from Sun is 49 times the distance of Earth from Sun.
13. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to complete one revolution around the Sun. Out of these 248 Earth years, Pluto stays closer to Sun than it is closer to Neptune for 20 Earth years.
14. The average distance maintained by Pluto from Sun is 5,906,380,000 km or 3,670,050,000 miles, which is 39.482 times the average distance Earth maintains from Sun.
15. The closest (Perihelion) Pluto can get to Sun is 30.171 times the closest Earth can get to Sun. So, the closest distance of Pluto from Sun is 4,436,820,000 km or 2,756,902,000 miles.
16. The farthest (Aphelion) Pluto can get away from Sun is 48.481 times the farthest Earth can get away from Sun. So, the farthest distance of Pluto from Sun is 7,375,930,000 km or 4,583,190,000 miles.
17. Pluto’s very small size and its slow rotation suggests that the celestial body has very little gravity. Scientists say that the gravity of Pluto is less than a fifth of the gravity of Earth.
18. Pluto takes 6.4 Earth days to complete one rotation. Interestingly, the largest moon of Pluto – the Charon also takes 6.4 Earth days to complete one revolution around Pluto.
19. Charon, which is the largest moon of Pluto is nearly half the size of Pluto. Its name has been derived from Greek mythology. Charon as per Greek mythology is a demon whose duty is to ferry souls to the underworld.
20. Charon is only 19,640 km or 12,200 miles away from Pluto. This is less than the distance traveled by flight from Sydney to London.
Interesting Pluto Facts: 21-30
21. Pluto has retrograde rotation. This simply means that it rotates in direction opposite to the rotation direction of Earth. Therefore on Pluto, Sun rises in west and sets in east.
22. Sunlight takes 5 hours to reach Pluto as compared to only 8 minutes to reach Earth.
23. Because Pluto is extremely far from Sun, the sky observed from Pluto is very dark. Thus, anyone standing on Pluto will be able to see stars even during daytime.
24. Pluto also has 4 other moons. One of them is Nix – Greek goddess of darkness and night. The other one is Hydra – 9-headed serpent responsible for guarding Hades. Both of them were discovered in 2005. S/2011 P 1 (Kerberos) – the fourth moon of Pluto was discovered in 2011. In 2012, yet another moon was discovered and was named as Styx.
25. Discovery of Styx refueled the long debate whether Pluto is a planet or not. Will Pluto get back its status of being a planet? It all depends on the great minds of scientists!
26. As mentioned earlier, Pluto remains closer to Sun compared to Neptune’s distance from Sun for 20 year, Pluto actually becomes the 8th object (planet – if we decide to call it so) in our Solar System and Neptune becomes the 9th. This happened from 1979 to 1999 and will again happen in 2231 on April 5.
27. Pluto has extreme seasonal variations because it rotates on its side. During Pluto’s solstices, its one quarter of surface remains in permanent darkness and the other quarter in permanent daylight!
28. Pluto completes one rotation in 6.4 Earth days which simply means that the Sun rises and sets on Pluto nearly once every Earth week.
29. The only and the first aircraft that will visit Pluto will be New Horizons spacecraft. It is scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015 (this year). New Horizons was launched back in 2006.
30. Charon – Pluto’s largest moon appears to be standing still on Pluto’s sky and only one side of Charon always faces Pluto. This happens because Pluto completes one spin in 6.4 Earth days and Charon completes on revolution around Pluto in exactly 6.4 Earth days.