What is Pluto?

Pluto is a dwarf planet, that is to say, a celestial body that draws an orbit around the Sun and that its mass is sufficient to have rounded it.

It differs from the planets, because they have also cleared the areas near its orbit of objects of similar size. On the contrary, near the orbit of Pluto there are numerous objects of slightly smaller sizes.

Between 1930 and 1992 Pluto was considered one more planet in the Solar System. However, in 1992 numerous celestial bodies were discovered that were in the same region belonging, such as Pluto, to the Kuiper belt.

After more than a decade of controversy, in 2006 the IAU redefined the concepts of planet and dwarf planet, including Pluto among the latter.

With the technology that observatories had in the 19th century, Pluto was not yet visible. However, astronomers knew that the orbit of each planet is affected by the presence of other nearby planets in the same system.

Scientists had already discovered Neptune (eighth planet in the Solar System) despite not being able to observe it, due to the way in which Neptune disturbed the orbit of Uranus (seventh planet in the Solar System).

However, at the end of the 19th century they discovered that the disturbances in the orbit of Uranus were due to the presence of another planet, in addition to Neptune.

With the theoretical hypothesis of its existence, the search for the ninth planet began and its discovery was reached on March 13, 1930 at the Lowell Observatory.

Pluto name

All planets are named after gods of Ancient Rome. Although it was the ancient Greeks who discovered the planets, the Romans gave new names to their gods and therefore to the planets.

This is why the planets that were discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries also got the names of Roman deities. In Roman mythology, Pluto is the god of the underworld.

The name was chosen by members of the Lowell Observatory, who selected it from among other Latin names and it became the official name of the planet on May 1, 1930.

Origin of Pluto

Starting in the 1990s, scientists began to suspect that Pluto could be an ancient satellite of Neptune, but later discovered more Pluto-like objects close to its orbit.

This is how it was discovered that Pluto belongs to the Kuiper belt. It is a disk made up of gas, dust, rocky objects, ice, and dwarf or planetesimal planets. Of all of them, Pluto is the largest object, so it could be discovered before the belt.

All these objects form a disk around the sun that rotates in its own orbit. Its name is in honor of Gerard Kuiper, who theoretically calculated its existence in 1951.

Pluto’s orbit
Pluto’s translation period, that is, the time it takes to travel its orbit around the sun, is 248 Earth years. It is not a circle but forms an ellipse, that is, an elongated circle, and the Sun is not in the center but closer to one of the ends of the ellipse.

This type of orbit is called eccentric. The eccentricity of the orbit is such that it intersects the orbit of Neptune. For this reason, between 1979 and 1999, Neptune was the planet furthest from the Sun.

Rotation of Pluto

Pluto’s rotation period, that is, the time it takes to rotate on itself, is 6.38721 Earth days. Pluto has a satellite called Charon, which has a translation period equal to Pluto’s rotation period.

Pluto size
At its equator (its greatest circumference) Pluto is 2,300 km in diameter, which is equivalent to 18% of the Earth’s diameter. On the other hand, its mass is only 0.0022% of the mass of the Earth, that is, it is much less dense than our planet.

Pluto’s atmosphere
An atmosphere is the layer of gases that surrounds a celestial body because of its gravity. In the case of Pluto, it is composed mainly of nitrogen and smaller amounts of methane and carbon monoxide.

Sin embargo, esta atmósfera no es permanente, sino que aparece cuando Plutón se encuentra más cercano al Sol, ya que derrite parcialmente los hielos de la superficie y de ellos se desprenden los gases.

Gravedad de Plutón

Gravity is an acceleration and, in the case of Pluto, it is 0.62 m / s² which is even less than the gravity of the Moon (1.622 m / s²). On the surface of Pluto, gravity is 4.1% of Earth’s gravity (Earth’s gravity is 9.807).

Due to the low force of gravity and the weakness of its atmosphere, the escape velocity is 10 times less than the earth. Escape velocity is the minimum speed an object must take to escape gravitational pull. In the case of Pluto it is 1.1 km / s and that of Earth is 11.2 km / s.

Pluto exploration
During Nasa’s New Horizons mission, a space probe began taking pictures of Pluto and its moons in July 2015. On July 13, it reached 768 thousand kilometers from the surface and was able to photograph it, obtaining information about its relief.

Pluto satellites

Satellites are celestial bodies that draw an orbit around a larger one, for example, the Moon around the Earth. The satellites of Pluto are:

Charon. Discovered in 1978, it is half the diameter of Pluto and roughly the same mass, which is why it is considered a double planet.
Nix and Hydra. Both satellites were discovered in 2005 by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Cerberus and Styx. The Hubble telescope also discovered these satellites in 2011 that orbit the system composed of Charon and Pluto.