8 Facts About The Former Ninth Planet Pluto

1. Pluto was first discovered by a young research assistant in 1930

Photographic evidence of the former ninth planet was first sighted by 24-year-old research assistant Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Tombaugh‚Äôs ashes are aboard the New Horizons spacecraft that passed by Pluto on Tuesday. Astronomer Percival Lowell predicted Pluto‚Äôs existence 15 years prior to Tombaugh‚Äôs discovery‚Äďeven charting its approximate location based on the irregularity of Neptune‚Äôs orbit.

2. An 11-year-old girl gave Pluto its name

When Venetia Burney‚Äôs grandfather told her the news of the newly discovered planet, she proposed the name Pluto, after the Roman god of the Underworld. It seemed fitting, for after all, Pluto the planet, like the God, sat at the far reaches of the solar system. Her grandfather was taken by the name and suggested it to a friend‚Äďconveniently an astronomy professor at Oxford University. Astronomers were particularly keen on Pluto because the first two letters of the word are Percival Lowell‚Äôs initials.

3. Pluto is smaller than Earth‚Äôs moon but larger than previously thought

Pluto is 1,473 miles in diameter, according to recent measurements obtained from New Horizons, while Earth’s moon has a diameter of 2,160 miles. Pluto is 18.5% the size of Earth.

4. Disney’s Pluto the dog was named after the former planet

Disney’s Pluto the dog debuted in the same year the former planet was discovered, but contrary to popular belief, the dog was named after Pluto the (ex)-planet, not vice versa. Disney animators speculated that Walt Disney chose the name to capitalize on the hubbub surrounding the new planet.

5. New Horizons, the first vessel devoted to studying Pluto’s environment, is the size of a grand piano

The New Horizons probe cost $700 million yet, weighing in at 1,000 pounds, is only the size of a grand piano. It completed the nine-year, 3-billion mile journey to Pluto on Tuesday morning, whizzing about 6,000 ft. from the dwarf planet at 31,000 mph, and snapping the closest pictures of Pluto to date as it passed.

6. Pluto has a heart shape on its surface

Images released on Tuesday by NASA show a heart shape that measures approximately 1,000 miles across. As NASA reports, ‚Äúmuch of the heart‚Äôs interior appears remarkably featureless‚Äďpossibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.‚ÄĚ

7. Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006‚Äďbut not for the commonly believed reason

The news of Pluto’s larger than expected size on Monday was particularly exciting to Pluto partisans because many believe the outsider was stripped of its planetary status because it was too small. However, Pluto was actually downgraded to dwarf planet because it’s simply not unique. Pluto is merely the brightest member of the Kuiper Belt, a mass of objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune.

8. Scientists discovered the Solar System’s third zone because of Pluto

While Pluto‚Äôs frigid neighbors are responsible for its solar system downfall, they are also what make the New Horizons vision so compelling. As Jeff Moore said, ‚ÄúPluto may be the star witness to the whole third zone of the solar system.‚ÄĚ Before the discovery of the Kuiper Belt, the solar system was believed to be comprised of two zones: the inner zone, containing the rocky planets from Mercury to Mars, and the outer zone, containing the gas giants from Jupiter to Neptune. However, Pluto exposed astronomers to our solar system‚Äôs third zone, which Moore referred to as a ‚Äúvast realm of ice worlds.‚ÄĚ

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