-By Bruce Gavett

Today, July 14, after over 9 years and 3 billion miles, the New Horizons Spacecraft will pass within 8,000 miles of the dwarf planet Pluto.  This will be the first close up look at the former 9th Planet.

Here are some facts about Pluto

Pluto (the Dwarf Planet)

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.    The name Pluto was suggested by an eleven-year-old English girl, Venetia Burney.   It was Venetia’s grandfather that passed on her suggestion and the name was chosen.

Pluto was considered the 9th planet for many years.   In 2006, Pluto was reclassified by the International Astronomical Union to a dwarf planet along with the asteroid Ceres and Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Eris.    In 2008, KBOs Haumea and Makemake were added to the list of dwarf planets.

Pluto is small and tilted on its side.

Pluto, with a diameter of 1,430 miles, is roughly 2/3 the width of the Earth’s Moon.    If you weigh 100 lbs. on the Earth, you would only weigh 7 lbs. on Pluto.

Pluto, along with Uranus, are the two “planets” that rotate on their side.

Pluto has an unusual orbit

Pluto’s 248 year orbit is inclined to the plane of the Solar System by 17o.

The eight planets have close to circular orbits.   Pluto’s orbit is more elongated.  It is within 2.8 billion miles from the Sun at it nearest point and comes inside the orbit of Neptune for twenty years.    At its farthest point, it is 4.6 billion miles from the Sun.

Pluto has five moons

Pluto’s large moon Charon was discovered in 1978 and, with a diameter of 750 miles, is half the width of Pluto itself.

Pluto and Charon form what could be called a binary {dwarf} planet, where both objects orbit a common point (called the barycenter) between the two objects.   Pluto and Charon are tidal locked.   They both rotate and orbit each other every 6.39 days keeping the same sides facing each other.

Pluto has four smaller moons.

Nix and Hydra discovered in 2005

  • Kerberos (P4) discovered in 2011
  • Styx (P5) discovered in July 2012
  • Charon is the closest to Pluto at a distance of 10,900 miles.

Of course, one question is “how do you pronounce Charon (Sharon or Kharon)”?   John Hopton of redOrbit.com offers the answer.  His conclusion says it all ☺ (see http://beforeitsnews.com/space/2015/05/how-to-pronounce-plutos-moon-charon-2490032.html).

Mythology (from NASA Solar System Exploration)

  • Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld.
  • Charon is the ferryman who carries souls across the river Acheron.
  • Nix is the mother of Charon and the goddess of darkness and night.
  • Hydra is the nine-headed serpent that guards the underworld.
  • Kerberos is a three-headed dog from Green mythology.
  • Styx is the river that separates the realm of the dead from the world of the living.

Find out more about Pluto