Facts about Pluto

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Pluto, once defined as the ninth planet of the solar system, was demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006 when a new definition of planets was drawn up by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) based in Prague.1 There were 3 main qualifiers for planet status which included orbiting around the sun, be spherical by its own gravitational force and finally to have its neighbourhood cleared of smaller bodies, asteroid and debris. Pluto qualified for the first two criteria but did not clear the last.

1. Discovered in 1930, it was named after the Roman God of the underworld due to its location away from the sun and being in perpetual darkness.

2. Pluto is named by a 11 year old girl from Oxford, England who forwarded the name to the Lowell Observatory through her grandfather.

3. A spacecraft, the New Horizons, was launched in 2006 with a planned 2015 as date of landing. Detail information about Pluto will be pending this landing.

4. Temperatures on Pluto can go down to -2400C when it is farthest from the Sun.

5. Pluto’s orbit is a 248 year long elliptical journey which is the longest as compared to the other 8 planets. In comparison, Mars takes 88 earth days whereas Earth takes 365 days.

6. When Pluto gets closest to the Sun (perihelion), the surface ice melts and forms a thin extended atmosphere due to its low gravity. Once it moves furthest away from the Sun (aphelion), the atmosphere reverts to icy, freezing darkness.

7. In 1989 Pluto came within 29.7 AU of the Sun, the closest to date enabling research work. The furthest distance from the Sun is 49.3 AU. (1 AU = 93 million miles or distance from earth to sun)

8. The Hubble Space Telescope photographed Pluto in 1994indicating it as red composition.

9. The thin atmosphere on Pluto would be toxic to humans as it contains methane, ethane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.

10.Known as retrograde rotation, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east on Pluto as opposed to Earth.

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