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The Astronomical Planet
Pluto

The Astronomical Planet PlutoPluto is considered to be the smallest, coldest, and most distant planet from the Sun. However, Pluto may also be the largest of a group of objects that orbit in a disk-like zone beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt. This distant region consists of thousands of miniature icy worlds with diameters of at least 1,000 km and is also believed to be the source of some comets.

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Planetary Statistics of Pluto
Chronology of Pluto
Environment of Pluto
The Plutonian Moon
Images and Information
The Astrological Planet Pluto

Planetary Statistics of Pluto:

  • Pluto: Ninth Planet from the Sun
  • Diameter: 1,413 Miles
  • Distance from The Sun: 3,674.5 million miles
  • Planetary Year: 247.7 earth years to make one complete revolution around the Sun.
  • Planetary Day: 6.39 earth days to make one complete revolution on its axis.
  • Temperature: Mean; 37 K (-236C, -393F)
  • Moons: 1 (Charon)

Chronology of Pluto

Discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the Sun. Most of what we know about Pluto we have learned since the late 1970s from Earth based observations, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), and the Hubble Space Telescope. Many of the key questions about Pluto, Charon, and the outer fringes of our solar system await close-up observations by a robotic space flight mission.

In 1978, American astronomers James Christy and Robert Harrington discovered that Pluto has a satellite (moon), which they named Charon. Charon is almost half the size of Pluto and shares the same orbit. Pluto and Charon are thus essentially a double planet. Charon's surface is covered with dirty water ice and doesn't reflect as much light as Pluto's surface.

Pluto's most recent close approach to the Sun was in 1989. Between 1979 and 1999, Pluto's highly elliptical orbit brought it closer to the Sun than Neptune, providing rare opportunities to study this small, cold, distant world and its companion moon, Charon.

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the official scientific body for astronomical nomenclature, reclassified the Planet Pluto to "Dwarf Planet" while "upgrading certain Asteroids to the same classification.

Environment of Pluto

Pluto is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth's Moon and may have a rocky core surrounded by a mantle of water ice. Due to its lower density, its mass is about one-sixth that of the Moon.

Pluto appears to have a bright layer of frozen methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide on its surface. While it is close to the Sun, these ices thaw, rise, and temporarily form a thin atmosphere, with a pressure one one-millionth that of Earth's atmosphere.

Pluto's low gravity (about 6 percent of Earth's) causes the atmosphere to be much more extended in altitude than our planet's. Because Pluto's orbit is so elliptical, Pluto grows much colder during the part of each orbit when it is traveling away from the Sun. During this time, the bulk of the planet's atmosphere freezes.

Because Pluto is so small and far away, it is difficult to observe from Earth. In the late 1980s, Pluto and Charon passed in front of each other repeatedly for several years. Observations of these rare events allowed astronomers to make crude maps of each body. From these maps it was learned that Pluto has polar caps, as well as large, dark spots nearer its equator.

The Plutonian Moon Charon

Pluto and Charon orbit the Sun in a region where there may be a population of hundreds or thousands of similar bodies that were formed early in solar system history. These objects are referred to interchangeably as trans-Neptunian objects, Edgeworth-Kuiper Disk objects, or ice dwarfs.

Information Courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech

Images and Information

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  • Pluto and Charon
    This photograph shows a clear view of Pluto and Charon. The image shows the two objects as clearly separate and sharp disks. It was taken when the planet was 2.6 billion miles from Earth.

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