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Facts About Pluto

1 Orbit of Sun
90,465 Days
1 Rotation
6 Days 9 Hours
Mass
0.02% of Earth
Volume
1% of Earth
Escape Velocity
15,449 km/h (9,600 mph)
Distance From Sun
5,869 million kilometers (3,647 million miles)
Avg Temperature
-234° C (-390° F)
Atmosphere
Methane, Nitrogen
Diameter
2,390 kilometers (1,485 miles)

Did you know?

Pluto revolves around the Sun in an orbit that is not exactly circular like the rest of the planets. Rather, Pluto’s orbit is more of an oval or egg shape. Because of this, Pluto will orbit inside of Neptune’s orbit, which makes Pluto closer to the Sun than Neptune at times. Also, its orbit does not lie flat in the same plane as the rest of the planets. Pluto’s orbit is tilted so it orbits above and below the other planets’ orbits in our Solar System.

A watercolor painting of what Pluto might look like.

A watercolor rendition of the dwarf planet Pluto. What do you think it might look like?

Pluto

Pluto revolves around the Sun in an orbit that is not exactly circular, much like the rest of the planets. Rather, its orbit is more of an oval or egg shape. Because of this, Pluto will orbit inside of Neptune’s orbit. At times, this makes Pluto closer to the Sun than Neptune. Also, its orbit does not lie flat in the same plane as the rest of the planets. Pluto’s orbit tilts so it orbits above and below the other planets’ orbits in our Solar System.
 
Scientists believe Pluto is about two-thirds rock and one-third water ice. There might actually be more water on Pluto than on Earth. Like Neptune, Pluto was discovered through mathematical predictions instead of observation.
 
In 1906 Percival Lowell started the search for the planet X. He believed that another planet must exist that he could find with mathematics. Unfortunately, he died before finding Pluto.  Pluto wasn’t discovered until 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. He was working at the observatory of Percival Lowell and reviewing his previous work. Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet after a year of searching.
 

Pluto Means

Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld. He is the brother of Neptune and Jupiter. In Greek mythology, he’s counterpart is Hades.
 
Pluto was given its name by an 11-year-old girl! Her name was Venetia Burney, who lived in Oxford, England. When they discovered the planet in 1930, she said they should name it after the Roman god of the underworld. Venetia’s grandfather sent this suggestion to the Lowell Observatory. And that’s how Pluto got its name.
 

How much would you weigh on Pluto?

Because Pluto is so small you would be very light if you visited. If you weigh 70 pounds (32 kg) on Earth, you would only weigh 4 pounds (2.5 kg) on Pluto. The planet’s gravity is super weak!

An image of Pluto and Charon taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Pluto and its moon Charon.

The Dwarf Planet

Pluto is smaller than 7 of the moons in the Solar System. It is about two-thirds smaller than Earth’s moon. Because it is so small, many scientists don’t consider it a planet at all. In 1999, a group of scientists attempted to re-classify Pluto as a comet.
 
On August 24, 2006, Pluto’s status was officially changed from planet to dwarf planet. Pluto had previously been a planet for 75 years. For decades, children were taught in school that there are nine planets in our Solar System. However, with this change, there are now only eight official planets.
 

Even More Dwarf Planets

What brought about this new status was the discovery of other dwarf planets. Beginning in 1992, scientists discovered other dwarf planets orbiting in the same area as Pluto. Today scientists have discovered more than a thousand objects in this area.  With these discoveries, there was a new category created called the plutoids. Pluto is the largest of the dwarf planets.
 
These plutoids are in an area that scientists have named the Kuiper Belt. This belt likely consists of mostly icy materials. The discovery of Eris, another dwarf planet sparked the discussion, what makes a planet a planet?
 

Imaging Pluto

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided the clearest images of Pluto for scientists. Studies of Pluto and its moons are still conducted today with these images. However, little is still known about Pluto and its moons because it is so far away.
 

Moons

This planet has 5 moons. The largest is Charon. Charon is only slightly smaller than its parent Pluto. For this reason, Pluto and Charon are often called a double planet system. The Earth and its moon, Luna, are sometimes considered double planets. Pluto’s moons are Hydra, Styx, Kerberos and Nix.

An image of Pluto and it's moons.

Pluto’s moons, many were just discovered in the past 18 years.

Other Great Resources

(Video) Pluto and Dwarf Planets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZfi89JiXKM&t=177s

(Video) Learning About The Dwarf Planet Pluto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DimdSNSoIM0

(Video) Why Isn’t Pluto a Planet Anymore?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqX2YdnwtRc

 

Written by: Monica Siegenthaler