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May the Planet of Pluto Be with You

18 Feb
Pluto, NASA, dwarf planet, Kuiper belt

Image credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Whenever I gaze up at the night sky, incredibly the darkness tells an amazing story of celestial bodies coexisting in the Solar System. Today, I am pleased to write about the commemoration of Pluto Day. Discovered on February 18, 1930 Clyde W. Tombaugh, Pluto was originally considered the ninth planet from the sun. My inner child is captivated by the activities going on in orbit, although I am not science buff. Whenever I get an opportunity to check out some little known facts about our planetary system, I feel the force of “space” is with me.

The planet Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. Pluto has five known moons: Charon (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body.

The object/planet was officially named on May 25, 1930. Each member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote on a short-list of three: Minerva (which was already the name for an asteroid), Cronus (which had lost reputation through being proposed by the unpopular astronomer Thomas Jefferson Jackson), and Pluto. Pluto received every vote. The name was announced on May 1, 1930.

Pluto’s rotation period, its day, is equal to 6.39 Earth days. Like Uranus, Pluto rotates on its “side” on its orbital plane, with an axial tilt of 120°, and so its seasonal variation is extreme; at its solstices, one-fourth of its surface is in continuous daylight, whereas another fourth is in continuous darkness. Pluto’s surface is composed of more than 98 percent nitrogen ice, with traces of methane and carbon monoxide. The New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015 after a 3,462-day journey across the Solar System.

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