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Anyone interested in science and astronomy is in for a treat with this article. Today we will be talking about the jilted planet Pluto. Though it has been long since Pluto has been stripped of its title as a planet in our Solar System, many people still have their hearts attached to the dwarf planet.
While there are many reasons to exclude this planet from the Solar System, several factors still make it interesting. The cold and icy dwarf planet is famous for multiple things, including the thin, blue atmospheric layer around it and its five moons.
If you delve deeper into its history and characteristics, you will find that it is one of the most exciting “planets” out there.
This dwarf planet in our Solar System is not so small after all. Pluto is the largest dwarf planet found to date. Even though Eris was considered a giant dwarf planet, a recent study proves this information to be incorrect.
Eris is 1,445 miles across, which is only about 30 miles shy of the 1,476-mile diameter of Pluto. Even though some scientists still debate about the correct size of Pluto, it is currently known as the largest dwarf planet in the Milky Way Galaxy.
We know that most days, months, and extraterrestrial bodies are named after Greek and Roman gods. So, of course, Pluto was no exception. It is named after the Roman God of Death and the Underworld.
According to Roman Mythology, when a person dies, they have to cross the river Styx—the river of death—with the help of a ferryman. This ferryman was named Charon. It is why one of Pluto’s moons is named Charon.
The name “Pluto” was suggested by an 11-year-old British Schoolgirl, Venetia Burney Phair. She was at the breakfast table with her mother and grandfather when she suggested the name for the newly discovered planet. This name soon caught the attention of the world.
Pluto has five moons that orbit the planet at neatly distributed distances. Charon, Kerberos, Hydra, Styx, and Nix are these five moons. Pluto’s moon system came into existence when the dwarf planet collided with another object in the Kuiper belt.
Some of its moons are oddly shaped and were discovered over 54 years ago. For example, Charon was discovered in 1978, Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011, and Styx in 2012. The names of Pluto’s moons are also based on the Roman Gods and other mythical creatures.
While Earth takes 365 days to complete an orbit around the Sun, Pluto takes 248 Earth years. Since this dwarf planet is 3.7 billion miles away from the Sun and has a tilted orbit, it takes more time to complete one rotation.
Furthermore, one day is based on 153.3 hours. If you compare this to Earth, one day on Pluto is 6.4 Earth days. This is also due to the slow rotation of Pluto.
Pluto has a really thin atmosphere composed of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in Pluto’s environment, which creates a bluish haze over the dwarf planet.
This blue haze has a height of around 100 miles, which makes it inhabitable for a human being. This atmosphere gives Pluto a blue sky, which is rare in the Kuiper belt. Since Pluto has an inclined orbit, it directly impacts its atmosphere.
Back in 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft took an image of Pluto that revealed a massive heart on the surface of the dwarf planet. This heart is made of ice that directly impacts the planet’s atmosphere and makes it spin backward.
This planetary heart garnered the attention of millions of people, which drew Pluto closer to our actual hearts despite being the most distanced planet in the Solar System. On one lobe of Pluto’s heart, there is a basin named Sputnik Planitia, which is filled with nitrogen ice.
When Pluto was discovered as a dwarf planet, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) gave it a new name, 134340. This organization is responsible for collecting all the data about comets and asteroids in the Solar System.
This step took the planethood of Pluto away. Assigning Pluto an asteroid number made people protest against this decision, demanding the organization to give Pluto’s planethood back.
While the world was busy finding water on Mars, they didn’t know that Pluto has a surprising amount of water. A new map of Pluto revealed that it has considerable water and ice quantities.
Not only that, but Pluto also has volcanoes that emit water instead of magma. This discovery made researchers consider the possibility of life on Pluto’s surface. The fact that Pluto can have a liquid ocean beneath the surface indicates a possibility of life.
Pluto has a feeble gravity of 0.62 meters per second squared, which equals one-twelfth of Earth’s gravity. So, even though most rocky planets have a strong gravity, this planet is an exception.
For example, if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you will weigh around 8 pounds on Pluto. It can be a unique experience for human beings, but unfortunately, landing on Pluto is currently not possible for humans due to a lack of resources.
Planning a human-crewed mission to Pluto is not possible due to the lack of resources. However, a space research spacecraft named the New Horizons has managed to reach the surface of Pluto.
It took the spacecraft more than 9 years to achieve the milestone. It was also a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program with the primary purpose to study the characteristics of the dwarf planet.
New Horizons was launched in 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, being the first spacecraft to study the five moons of the dwarf planet.
Pluto is the only planet in the Solar System with no magnetic field. It is also one of the reasons why some scientists do not consider it a planet. Since Pluto is relatively small and has a prolonged rotation, it suggests that the planet has zero magnetic fields.
However, it is still not confirmed. Even if the planet has a magnetic field, it is so weak that it is barely noticeable. It is also quite far from the Sun, affecting its gravitational field.
Because one day on Pluto is equal to 6.4 Earth days, Pluto only experiences a sunset and sunrise once a week. It is because sunlight takes 5.5 hours to reach Pluto due to its massive distance from the Sun.
A current image taken by the New Horizon spacecraft revealed the beautiful sunset on Pluto. Despite the Sun’s light hitting the surface, it appears dark and cold. It contains rock structures, mountains, and craters, giving the surface an uneven, rocky silhouette.
Pluto is an icy cold planet with most of its water in frozen form. Since it is so far away from the Sun, it barely gets any warmth to melt those ice caps. The average temperature of Pluto is -387°F to -369°F.
At this temperature, no human being can survive, even for a few minutes. The reason for such a cold environment on Pluto is its atmosphere. The hydrocarbon haze particles in the atmosphere contribute to the cold temperature on its surface.
Before Pluto, scientists only knew about two zones of the Solar System. The first zone contains the rocky planets, and the second one includes the gas planets. Pluto helped researchers find the third zone in the Solar System, known as the Kuiper belt.
Furthermore, the scientist discovered that the Kuiper belt is the largest zone of our Solar System, which consists of several asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets. Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper belt to date.
Plutonium (Pu) is a radioactive material discovered in December 1940 by chemist Glenn Seaborg and his colleagues. This material was named after the planet Pluto.
Since this material came after Uranium, named after the planet Uranus, the chemist found the name “Plutonium” perfect for the material. In addition, despite being a metallic material, it lacks magnetic properties, further relating it to the dwarf planet.
In 2006, Pluto was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet. Despite the popular demand of the public to consider Pluto a planet again, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) still does not find it fit to be called a planet.
This means Pluto is still one of the five dwarf planets in the system, and it will continue to be until the research shows otherwise. Even though Pluto does not have enough mass to clear its debris field, one of the three main requirements of a body being a planet, it is still counted as a dwarf planet only.
Some scientists still believe Pluto is a planet due to its atmosphere and refuse to think otherwise. Therefore, IAU will have to reconsider its definition of a planet to accept Pluto as a normal planet in our Solar System.
These 15 interesting facts are a treat for every astronomy lover’s mind and heart. Ever since its discovery back in 1930, Pluto has continued to baffle scientists with its characteristics. To this day, scientists find new and exciting facts about Pluto.
Today, the dwarf planet is known for more than just its big heart or its vast orbit. The icy dwarf planet has many more interesting characteristics if you look into its details. If you’re an astronomy lover, believe us, Pluto has got a lot more exciting things for you to check out.
If you are interested in sharing information about the dwarf planet and what qualities it possesses, then this article can be a great conversation starter.
Featured Image Credit: buradaki, Shutterstock
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Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.
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