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SOFIA finds clues hidden in Pluto's haze

When the New Horizons spacecraft passed by Pluto in 2015, one of the many fascinating features its images revealed was that this small, frigid world in the distant solar system has a hazy atmosphere. Now, new data helps explain ...

Pluto's icy heart makes winds blow

A "beating heart" of frozen nitrogen controls Pluto's winds and may give rise to features on its surface, according to a new study.

SwRI to plan Pluto orbiter mission

NASA has funded Southwest Research Institute to study the important attributes, feasibility and cost of a possible future Pluto orbiter mission. This study will develop the spacecraft and payload design requirements and make ...

Spring on Pluto: An analysis over 30 years

Whenever it passes in front of a star, Pluto provides precious information about its atmosphere, precious because occultations by Pluto are rare. The survey achieved by researchers from Paris Observatory over several decades ...

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Pluto

Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System (after Eris) and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun. Originally classified as the ninth planet from the Sun, Pluto was recategorized as a dwarf planet and plutoid due to the discovery that it is one of several large bodies within the newly charted Kuiper belt.

Like other members of the Kuiper belt, Pluto is composed primarily of rock and ice and is relatively small: approximately a fifth the mass of the Earth's Moon and a third its volume. It has an eccentric and highly inclined orbit that takes it from 30 to 49 AU (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. This causes Pluto to periodically come closer to the Sun than Neptune. As of 2011, it is 32.1 AU from the Sun.

From its discovery in 1930 until 2006, Pluto was classified as a planet. In the late 1970s, following the discovery of minor planet 2060 Chiron in the outer Solar System and the recognition of Pluto's relatively low mass, its status as a major planet began to be questioned. In the late 20th and early 21st century, many objects similar to Pluto were discovered in the outer Solar System, notably the scattered disc object Eris in 2005, which is 27% more massive than Pluto. On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined what it means to be a "planet" within the Solar System. This definition excluded Pluto as a planet and added it as a member of the new category "dwarf planet" along with Eris and Ceres. After the reclassification, Pluto was added to the list of minor planets and given the number 134340. A number of scientists continue to hold that Pluto should be classified as a planet.

Pluto has four known moons, the largest being Charon discovered in 1978, along with Nix and Hydra, discovered in 2005, and the provisionally named S/2011 P 1, discovered in 2011. Pluto and Charon are sometimes described as a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body. However, the IAU has yet to formalise a definition for binary dwarf planets, and as such Charon is officially classified as a moon of Pluto.

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