Written by Vedika Pathania (written in May 2020)
The Solar System is fascinating. Anything that is related to the infinite cosmos has always piqued our interest and most of us grew up learning that there were 9 planets in our Solar System and 9 planets that orbited around the Sun. The outermost one was Pluto which quickly became everyone’s favourite. But in 2006, Pluto was stripped of its status as a planet by the International Astronomical Union.
So the question arises, is Pluto really a planet? Well, sort of. Pluto is actually a Dwarf Planet.
Named after the God of the Underworld in classic mythology, Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and declared the 9th planet. At a distance of 5.9 billion kilometers from the sun, a diameter that’s just 70% that of our own Moon, Pluto has been the subject of many controversies as well as adoration. It also has a heart-shaped icy lake that makes it all the more loveable.
What exactly is a dwarf planet, you may wonder.
The basic difference that sets dwarf planets aside from normal planets like Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and other planets is that Dwarf Planets haven’t “Cleared the neighborhood around their orbits”.
What does this mean?
It basically means that there are other similar-sized celestial bodies as that particular planet (in this case, Pluto) in its orbit.
So, Dwarf Planets like Pluto don’t have enough gravitational dominance and share their orbit with a lot of other similar-sized objects. Pluto, for example, orbits in a zone outside Neptune’s orbit called the Kuiper Belt which is a distant region and has frozen bodies that are the debris from the origin of the Solar System. These are the bodies that also exist in Pluto’s orbit and are in Pluto’s “neighborhood”.
In January 2006, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the New Horizons spacecraft that conducted a 6 month-long flyby study of Pluto and its moons. New Horizons also found that Pluto has blue skies and water ice.
Even though Pluto is not a planet, the heart-spotted, icy mini-planet continues to be a favourite. For all you Pluto lovers, know that Pluto is not alone, it has the company of two other dwarf planets, Ceres and Eris, and is surrounded by celestial bodies as old as time.
Better Your Child’s G.K. In 3 Minutes – Get This Free Newsletter
Get fun facts, simple and easy news, quizzes, and lots of other interesting things to read in your mailbox – for free! It’s what we call GK-on-the-go!