The disc-like zone beyond Neptune’s orbit, the Kuiper belt, in which many objects orbit, Pluto is considered to be the largest one of them. The Kuiper Belt is a realm of thousands of miniature icy worlds – formed in the early history of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
The identification and origin of Pluto have been very puzzling for astronomers. It was formed by the combination of many comets and Kuiper belt objects, and is the largest member of Kuiper belt objects. Eris, which is about the same in size as Pluto, is not considered the largest because it is not a permanent member of Kuiper’s belt.
The Kuiper objects having 2:3 orbital resonance with Neptune are called Plutinos. Certain theories present that the current position of Pluto is a result of the migration of Neptune early in the solar system.
The distance of Pluto from the Sun
Pluto is closer to the Sun as compared to Neptune due to its orbit. There is a stable orbital resonance with Neptune that prevents Neptune and Pluto from colliding. It takes 5.5 hours for the light of the Sun to reach the planet, making it at a distance of approximately 39.5 AU from the Sun. The distance of Pluto from Earth is 34.4 AU taking 4 hours and 45 minutes for the light from this planet to make it to our planet.
Size of the Planet
It will not be wrong to say that the area of pluto is a bit larger than Russia, and as for its diameter, it is half as wide as the United States. The gravity on pluto is somewhat around 0.063 g. Earth has a gravity of 1 g. The radius of pluto is 1.188 km or 738 miles, while its diameter is 2,376 km or 1476 miles.
Mass of Pluto
The mass of Pluto comes out to be 1.3 x 1022 kg – this mass makes only 0.22 % of that of the Earth or 18% of the Earth’s moon. Moreover, it is twice in diameter, and in mass, it is a dozen times more than a dwarf planet Ceres – which is the most massive object in the asteroid belt. The moons: Callisto, Europa, Triton, Titan, and Ganymede are six times larger than Pluto in mass.
Orbit and Rotation
One hundred fifty-three hours make one day on Pluto, and it takes 248 years for the planet to complete it’s one complete trip around the Sun. It has an unusual slanty orbit. The orbits of Neptune and Pluto are aligned; though they seem to collide, they can never approach each other to get closer. A day’s rotation period of this planet is equal to 6.39 earth days.
Atmosphere of Pluto
Pluto’s atmosphere is quite similar to the comet. It has a thin atmosphere that expands while closer to the Sun, sublimation of surface ice occurs, the solid changes to gases, and it is more likely to remain gaseous atmosphere.
As we move away from the Sun, its atmosphere collapses. Its atmospheric gases expand up to 1670 kilometers or 1037 miles high and do not possess a sharp upper boundary. Nitrogen, Carbon monoxide, and methane make up the Pluto’s atmosphere. The surface pressure on Pluto is 1 Pa, which is about 100,000 times less than the atmospheric pressure on Earth.
Broadly classifying, it’s atmosphere separates into 20 layers, which expand up to 150 kilometers or 93 miles. Pluto’s upper atmosphere is far colder than 70 Kelvin or -203.15 degrees Celsius, which is much higher than expected.
Moons of the Planet Pluto
In the initial stages of the formation of the solar system, there was a collision of a body smaller in size than Pluto, and as a result of this, the moon system of Pluto came into existence. However, there are only five moons that naturally orbit the planet.
The most giant moon is the Charon, followed by smaller moons; Hydra, Kerberos, Nix, and Styx. Charon keeps the same face towards the planet while as for other small four moons, their faces.
It is the largest moon of Pluto, which has a radius of 606 km or 377 miles. The diameter of Charon is about half as compared to the planet itself and is about one-eighth of the mass of it. It is the biggest moon of a dwarf planet so far.
Nix, along with Hydra, came into the limelight in 2005. The diameter of this moon is 49.8 kilometers or 30.9 miles. According to its distance from the surface of the planet, it is the third moon of Pluto.
Styx, according to the distance, is the second moon of Pluto. Its discovery goes back to the year 2012. Its orbital period is of 20.2 days.
The fourth moon, discovering in 2011, has the longest dimension. It is almost 19 kilometers or 12 miles.
It has a diameter of 51 kilometers or 32 miles. It is the second-largest moon of Pluto, a bit bigger than Nix.
Owing to the fact that there is no water on the planet and the weather is extremely cold to support, we can not consider Pluto as a planet survivable for humans.
Locating Pluto Through a Telescope
It is in practice very difficult to view the planet with a reflective telescope or any other ground-based telescope, even if it is of very high magnification. If you use a telescope with 10 inches aperture, even then, all you will see is a very dim star in the sky. Moreover, you need to have a super-accurate chart that guides you through the sky and helps you to pinpoint the exact location of Pluto.
Considering it a dwarf planet, we cannot plan to foster life on it. However, it’s a great subject of research and study because it’s a unique phenomenon of our solar system. The total number of planets keeps oscillating between 8 and 9 with the entry and exit of the planet Pluto from the solar system’s confines.