Top 10 AMAZING Facts About PLANET PLUTO (Dwarf Planet)
At one time, Pluto stood tall amongst the other 8 planets, circling the sun like the best of them. From the naming of the distance planet, to discovering its many moons, we will journey through our solar system and discover 10 fascinating facts about Pluto.
The Naming of Pluto
The process to find Pluto was a long and drawn out one, taking years of research and much manpower. The naming of the Dwarf Planet was something far less complicated and involved a young intelligent mind and the proper connections. Falconer Madan, a retired librarian from Oxford, was with his 11-year old granddaughter, Venetia Burney, reading out loud the discovery of a new planet, then named Planet X. When Madan was inquisitive over what the planet should be called, Venetia chimed in with Pluto, naming it after the Roman god of the underworld, sticking with the current theme of the 8 current planets. Madan composed a letter to a friend and Oxford astronomer, Herbert Hall Turner. Pluto was put up against other popular choices, such as Kronos, Zeus, Atlas, and Persephone; but in May of 1930, a vote among astronomers at Lowell Observatory saw Burney’s suggestion winning, even beating out Minerva, which was looking like the popular choice.
Meteorology and Pluto
If you think you have it bad when your winter temperature doesn’t creep above freezing, imagine living on a planet with an average temperature hovers around 230°C below zero -382°F. Being the farthest from the sun, it’s understandable that, by the time the sun’s rays breach its gaseous atmosphere and reach the surface, the rays are considerably weaker. Even when it is closest to the sun, more gases are released into the atmosphere, making it difficult for what would be stronger heat rays to reach the surface, creating the opposite of the greenhouse effect. For most of its seasons, Pluto is coated in a layer of ice that, when it melts, releases nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, three components of the dwarf’s atmosphere.
Pluto’s Relationship with Charon is Unique
Distanced at around 19,570 kilometers or 12,160 miles apart, Pluto and Charon actually have a fairly strong relationship to one another. The two are in a gravitational lock of mutual tidal locking, so regardless of the time of day, the same face of Pluto is facing Charon and vice versa. In relation to moons and their host planets, Charon is the largest, coming in at half the size of Pluto, an impressive girth considering our moon is only 27% the size of Earth. Though currently considered a moon, since there is no true orbit of either object around the other, the International Astronomical Union has stated that considering Charon a Dwarf Planet is not an impossibility in the future.
The 5 Moons of Pluto
Where Earth only gets to enjoy the sight of one glowing moon, the Dwarf Planet of Pluto has 5 different moons. It is believed that, at one point in time, Pluto collided with another body in space, which caused material to disperse and create the 5 satellite moons. In order of discovery, the moons are Charon, discovered in 1978; Nix and Hydra, picked up by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005; Kerberos, found between the of Nix and Hydra in 2011; and Styx, which was discovered in 2012 when scientists were ensuring there would be no hazards for the 2015 New Horizons spacecraft. To prove the theory of the collision that created these moons, a search for an associated debris field is ongoing.
We’re so used to the sun setting in the west and rising in the east that experiencing the same daily event on Pluto may throw us for a loop. As Pluto spins in a retrograde motion, from east to west rather than west to east as we’re used to, the rising and setting of the sun occurs in an opposite pattern. The rotation of the planet is also considerably slower than that of Earth’s and one full rotation of Pluto takes approximately 6.39 days on Earth. One speculated reason for this slower rotation is the possible lack of a magnetic field.
Pluto Crosses Neptune’s Orbit
While Pluto is known for being the furthest planet from the sun, there actually is a moment in time where Neptune swaps places with it. Pluto’s elliptical orbit around the sun causes it to cross paths with Neptune’s orbit. From the period of 1979 to 1999, Neptune was actually farther from the sun than Pluto, a rare phenomenon that occurs for 20 years in 248-year cycles. Though the two planets share a bit of orbital space, Pluto is never subject to Neptune’s gravitational pull as the two planets don’t actually physically cross one another, despite the crisscrossing orbital pattern.
Pluto in Astrology
For those that subscribe to the school of Astrology, though Pluto may no longer be a planet, it still plays an important role. When considering the birth chart, Pluto is the symbol of creation and destruction and rules over Scorpio. Pluto is considered to be “the great renewer” or the part of a person that destroys in order to be rebuilt and is often associated with the Phoenix and the concept of rebirth or renewal of one self. Pluto governs areas of big business and wealth or any trade that involves digging and bringing out the truth, such as surgery or investigative lines of work. In traditional astrology, it’s not generally used as a ruling planet, but modern astrologers attribute it as the ruler of the eighth house.
Pluto Lost its Planetary Designation
From February of 1930 to August of 2006, Pluto was able to proudly tout the title of a planet; though there were those that questioned whether the designation was ever correct. In August of 2006, it was agreed by the International Astronomical Union that Pluto no longer be considered a planet like the other 8, but rather take on the title of a Dwarf Planet. Differing from a normal planet, a Dwarf Planet is unable to clear its neighboring region of other objects; so when astronomers noted that Pluto was sharing space on the Kuiper belt with other plutinos, it was determined that the 9th planet could no longer be considered as such. Today, the reclassification is still heavily debated, so it may be a matter of time before Pluto, once again, is reclassified as a planet.
Though Clyde may be credited with discovering Pluto, the search may not have occurred had Percival Lowell not been around. Percival had died prior to Pluto’s discovery, but he had conducted several searches that helped narrow down its location. After the discovery of Neptune, astronomers still believed a 9th planet existed based on irregularities found within the orbit of Uranus. Lowell began his search in 1905 and went through 3 unsuccessful searches, his determination rising when rival William H Pickering made allegations of an orbit and position of a theoretical planet. Lowell’s research was continued post-mortem, his family donating time and money to the effort until its 1930 discovery.
The Discoverer of Pluto
On February 18th, 1930, 24-year-old Clyde W. Tombaugh, astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovered what would become the ninth planet in our solar system. Though the planet was small, the discovery was huge, leaving a massive blip on Tombaugh’s occupational radar; an impressive feat considering Tombaugh hadn’t initially sought out employment at the Observatory. His place behind the telescope came shortly after sending observations of Jupiter and Mars utilizing a make-shift telescope made from a reflector, the crankshaft of a 1910 Buick, and parts from a cream separator. Impressed with his innovation, the observatory enlisted Tombaugh to operate a new photographic telescope to search what was then “Planet X.”