Is it a planet? Is it a rock? Let’s take a look at these interesting facts about Pluto to learn the answer.
Pluto Facts For Kids
Pluto, which was once considered to be the ninth planet of our solar system, is now the largest known dwarf planet present in our solar system. A member of the Kuiper Belt, it’s the largest known member after the planet Neptune. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto is too small to be termed as a planet, which is why it was reclassified to dwarf planet.
Pluto Name Origin
One of the most interesting Pluto facts for kids is it’s name. Pluto was named by an English girl Venetia Burney at Oxford, who suggested the name to her grandfather when she was 11 years old, who then passed the name to Lowell Observatory. Also, the name made sense as it had p and l as its first tow letters, incidentally the initials of Percival Lowell who first observed the first hints of the planet.
Pluto Is One Of The Coldest Objects
Nitrogen and methane ice cover Pluto completely. New Horizon also found that Pluto boasts a large number of ice ridges that look like knives from above. Pluto is one of the coldest places in the solar system with the temperatures reaching minus 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the changing red color of the dwarf planet has led the astronomers to believe Pluto might have seasons that change regularly.
It is not dense like other planets
Most of the planets in our solar system are dense and filled with hard and rocky surfaces. However, this is not the case with Pluto. One-third of the planet’s total mass is ice, which makes the planet less dense than other planets present in our solar system. This doesn’t mean that it is very small, it still is almost one fifth the size of Earth.
Pluto has not even completed one orbit
As the dwarf planet was discovered in 1930, we are still to see it achieving its orbit around the sun. It’s been just 86 years since the planet was found and to see it complete a full orbit around the sun we have to wait more 160.68 years. A single Plutonian year is almost 247.68 Earth years.
Pluto has five moons
Although Pluto is decidedly smaller when compared to other planets, it still has five moons. These moons are possibly the debris that is present at the edge of the Kuiper Belt. The five natural satellites of Pluto are named Styx, Nix, Charon, Hydra, and Kerberos. These moons are tiny and can be thought of as large asteroids. The smallest moon of Pluto, Hydra is just five miles in diameter.
Pluto and Charon are a binary system
Charon is the largest moon of Pluto, and it is huge when compared with the size of the dwarf planet. The moon is almost one eight of the size of Pluto, which makes it big enough to take the center of
mass of both of them outside the dwarf planet. This is why Pluto and Charon have been orbiting around that formed center, making them the only binary system of a planet and a moon directly observed in our solar system.
It has an atmosphere
Contrary to popular beliefs, Pluto actually does have an atmosphere. This has been confirmed by the New Horizons space probe after completing the flyby of Pluto. The atmosphere of Pluto is very thin and is made of nitrogen completely. As the dwarf planet’s mass is very low, the gas envelope making the atmosphere has spread out far into the space. This has resulted in the solar winds stripping away most of its parts.
The famous heart of Pluto is caused by frost
During the flyby of the New Horizons space probe, people noticed a heart-shaped feature on the surface of the dwarf planet. The image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto became viral almost instantly after people saw it. Actually the astronomers believe that this light-colored region that looks like a heart shape on the surface of the moon is caused by frost. The frost is believed to be formed from methane, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen.
Related: 35 Amazing Saturn Facts For Kids
Pluto’s orbit intersects the orbit of Neptune
Our solar system consists of 8 planets excluding the dwarf planet, and out of all of those Pluto has the most eccentric orbit. It’s so eccentric that it also intersects the orbit of Neptune and comes near to the sun for almost 20 years. This might make you think that this would result in Neptune’s mass ejecting Pluto from it’s orbit. However, that is not the case as both the planet have orbital resonance, which means that both the planets are never in the same region of space at any given point of time.
The planet rotates slowly and in the opposite direction
When compared with other planets, Pluto rotates very slowly. This is why one day in Pluto is equal to almost 6.4 days on earth. Also, it rotates from east to west, like Neptune and Venus. Fun Pluto facts for kids – Pluto rotates on it sides, like Neptune.
Pluto is quite young and has tall ice mountains
Studies done after the flyby of the New Horizons space probe has shown that Pluto is less than a 100 million years and is free from the craters that are created due to impact of asteroids and other foreign objects. This makes the dwarf planet younger than most of the other planets. Also, the flyby revealed mysterious ice mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet above the surface of Pluto. This means that the mountain peaks are higher than the rocky mountains of Earth.
Pluto was almost discovered more than 10 times before being finally discovered
If you think that Clyde Tombaugh was the only person to identify Pluto as a planet, you are wrong. Pluto was actually sighted more than a dozen of time before Tombaugh finally said that it’s a planet. Percival Lowell first saw the glimpses of Pluto being a planet and apart from it there are evidences that show that there were many other astronomers as well who saw Pluto on their telescopes. However, no one realized the fact that it could be a planet. There’s also a probable Pluto sighting in the year 1909 by an astronomer.
You might think Pluto is dark, but it’s not
As Pluto is the farthest object from the sun in our solar system, you might think that it would be dark in the planet. However, that is not the case, and Pluto is more brighter than what you might think. At noon on Pluto, you get enough brightness to be able to read a book without any issues.
Who Came First, The Planet Or The Dog?
Just as famous as the distant member of our solar system, is a dog named Pluto, Mickey Mouse’s dog to be exact. Pluto the dog came in to existence about the same time the planet was discovered. And as it turned out, Pluto the dog was named after Pluto the planet.
More Interesting Pluto Facts
- Pluto is not visible with the naked eye, in fact is difficult to see with an amateur telescope.
- You have to know exactly where to look to have any chance of seeing it and if you do it will simply appear as a rather dim star.
- The Hubble telescope has taken some photos of Pluto, but even when digitally filtered and enhanced, very little can be seen out the surface except for a few dark blotches on an otherwise yellowish sphere.
- The surface temperature averages around -225 degrees Celsius, with the surface consisting largely of frozen atmosphere (nitrogen, methane, ethane and carbon dioxide) water ice, and rock.
- Pluto has a rather weird orbit in that it is quite elliptical whereas the orbits of the other planets are relatively much more circular.
- One of the more unusual Pluto facts is its relationship with its moon Charon. Whereas our Moon revolves around the Earth, relative to both revolving around the sun, Pluto and Charon revolve around one another. In fact the two behave like a twin planet in many respects.
- If you were on Pluto, looking at Charon, it would hang motionless in the sky, never appearing to move.
- If you lived on the other side of Pluto, you would never see Charon! Charon is only about 750 miles in diameter, but the other two of Pluto’s moons are really tiny, with both being less than 40 miles in diameter.
- If standing on Pluto’s surface you may or may not see Charon, depending upon what part of the planet you’re on, and the other moons might look like small specks, while the sun more likely would appear as a very bright star.
- Pluto is just under 40 Astronomical Unit AU’s away from the sun, or nearly 3.7 billion miles. One of the interesting Pluto facts is, during its travels it does get to within 30 AU’s from the sun, still quite a distance.