Pluto is a dwarf planet in the outer part of our solar system. It is the second dwarf planet that’s closest to the sun, with the rest a bit further away. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was formerly considered as a planet until 2006 when the definition was changed. The dwarf planet was recently visited by New Horizons to uncover some fascinating facts. Continue reading to know all about Pluto planet facts for kids.
Pluto Facts and Information for Kids
There are many things to know about this dwarf planet. Here are the best of the fun facts about Pluto:
- Pluto is so far away that it is not visible to the naked eye. It is only visible through powerful telescopes and was discovered that way in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh when he was comparing the pictures taken by the Lowell Observatory. He noticed that there was an object that moved lightly in pictures taken 6 days apart while the stars remained stationary.
- Pluto has a highly elliptical orbit that is egg-shaped and varies in distance greatly from the sun. At its closest, Pluto is 4,446 million km from the sun; at its furthest, it is 7,381 km away from the sun. Radio signals sent to Pluto which travel at the speed of light take 4 hours to reach it!
- Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld by Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old girl.
- Due to its enormous orbit, Pluto takes 248 years to go once around the sun. Therefore, since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has not made even a single orbit around the sun!
- Pluto is in a region of the solar system called the Kuiper belt. This region contains thousands of icy and rocky objects orbiting the sun. Lying beyond the orbit of Neptune, the Kuiper belt is sometimes referred to as the “third zone”.
- At a diameter of 2,370 km, Pluto is tiny compared to most other planets in the solar system except Mercury. It has a rocky surface made of ice and other gasses.
- In 2006 after the discovery of several dwarf planets, it was decided that Pluto cannot be considered a planet. This is because Pluto does not ‘dominate’ its neighbourhood around where it orbits by sweeping up the space of asteroids, comets and other debris like other planets do.
- Of all the discovered dwarf planets, Pluto is the second closest to the sun. The first is Ceres, a 945 km wide dwarf planet that orbits in the asteroid belt. Some of the other dwarf planets include Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Triton, etc.
- Despite being tiny in size, Pluto has moons as well. It has 5 known moons out of which Charon is the largest one, being half the size of Pluto. The others are Hydra, Kerberos, Nix and Styx. Interestingly, Pluto and Charon are tidally locked; therefore, only one side of the planet sees the moon all the time.
- The New Horizons mission was the first sent to Pluto. Launched in 2006, it flew past the dwarf planet in 2015 revealing surprising details about the surface of Pluto. The mission is expected to last till 2026 as it will continue to explore the Kuiper belt objects.
- Until the New Horizons sent high-resolution images of the surface of Pluto, astronomers expected it to be icy, dark and blue-ish. Surprisingly, Pluto has a rusty tint resembling Mars.
- Of all the photos taken by the New Horizons mission, the one that captured everyone’s imagination was the heart-shaped ice sheet on the dwarf planet. By studying its photos, it is estimated that the ice sheet is no older than 100 million years due to the lack of craters, unlike the rest of Pluto.
- As Pluto has been closer to the sun in the last two decades, its ice and other frozen gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide have evaporated to form a thin atmosphere along with nitrogen.
- In one of the photos taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, a thin haze can be seen around Pluto. Very little is known about this haze which was discovered only after the photograph was taken.
- Pluto, contrary to the giant icy planet it was expected to be, turned out to have many features such as mountains, ice caps and rocky surfaces similar to Earth. Much of the evidence points to the hypothesis that Pluto’s surface has been active over the recent past.
Pluto has been a mysterious celestial object until the recent spacecraft fly-by. The things discovered about this dwarf planet have made it more intriguing since.