Pluto is the smallest of our nine planets. Yes, it is still being labeled as a planet, although some astronomers argue that Pluto is not a planet.
What is a planet? A simple definition of a planet is any large spherical natural object which directly orbits a star and does not generate heat by nuclear fusion. If one uses this definition than Pluto is a planet. In this case, the star of course is the sun. Hundreds and thousands of objects orbits the sun, including asteroids and comets. But asteroids and comets do not have their own spherical shape because their gravity is not strong enough to create one. That is why only nine of these objects are considered planets.
What do the astronomers believe Pluto is if it isn’t a planet? Some believe Pluto is a comet. While other astronomers argue that Pluto is too big to be a comet. Other astronomers argue that Pluto is an asteroid. Yet, Pluto has enough gravity to be spherical.
More is going to be learn about Pluto in the coming years thanks to a project called New Horizons. New Horizons is a space probe that plans on visiting one or more objects in the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune. This will be the first time any space probe has been sent to Pluto. But it is going to take years before the spacecraft will ever make it to Pluto.
New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. New Horizons Jupiter Encounter will occur on Feb. 28, 2007. Finally on July 14, 2015 New Horizons will be doing a close approach of Pluto. That means current first graders will be the eleventh grade when the mission reaches Pluto.
The mission is of course going to be used to collect data about Pluto.
Could there be more planets in our solar system pass Pluto. Yes, it is possible. More and more research will provide more answers about what is really in space.
For now here are some current facts that astronomers agree are true about Pluto:
1. 248 Earth years would equal one Pluto year.
2. 6 Earth Days and 9 hours would equal one Pluto day.
3. Nitrogen and carbon monoxide is in Pluto’s atmosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen is in the Earth’s atmosphere.
4. Pluto’s temperature is -370 degrees Fahrenheit. Earth’s temperature is 128 degrees to 136 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. An amateur American astronomer discovered Pluto in 1930.
6. An eleven year old English student, Venetia Burney Phair gave Pluto its name.
7. Charon is Pluto’s moon and is positioned very close to Pluto. They are close in size.
8. Pluto is about 3.5 million miles away from the Sun.
9. It takes Pluto 90,465 days to orbit the sun.
10. Pluto and Neptune cannot be seen with a telescope.