We know about so many of the planets in our classical solar system. Earth, of course, we know all about, and in recent years we have begun to learn more about Mars and Jupiter, etc. But, of the nine traditional planets, it’s the ninth (and smallest) planet, Pluto, that we arguably know the least about; at least, this was the case up until a couple of years ago.
Since 2015 our knowledge of Pluto has significantly increased, as planetary scientists have discovered more about it. We should all learn more about the planets, as well as doing what we can to explore the solar system in its entirety. Sure, Pluto may not be as flashy as the likes of Jupiter and Saturn, or as similar to our Earth as Mars, but it is still considered to be important. Here are some of the most surprising facts you probably never knew about Pluto.
It’s not actually a planet
We really should stop referring to Pluto as a planet, because technically speaking it’s not one. Well, at least not anymore. Pluto was classed as one of the nine main planets in the solar system since its discovery in 1930. Around 1992, many began to dispute its classification as a planet – this was largely due to the discovery of other objects on the Kuiper Belt of a similar size. Then, in 2005, Eris was discovered; this was a dwarf planet 27% larger than Pluto. This caused the IAU, a year later, to define what a planet was – Pluto didn’t make the cut, and was reclassified as a dwarf planet.
It has some surprising properties
Pluto is actually only half of the width of the United States, actually making it incredibly small compared with the other eight planets. It is also classed as a trans-Neptunian object as it lies directly beyond the planet Neptune. Pluto’s surface is very cold, it’s estimated to be around -375°F, and the dwarf planet boasts five moons. But, perhaps the most surprising thing to learn is how much time can change somewhere like Pluto, vs. Earth. Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the Sun – meaning that 1 year on Pluto is the equivalent to 248 years on Earth.
It was named by an 11-year-old girl
Pluto is fairly unique in the sense that it was not named by the person who discovered it. Or by astronomers, scientists, or academics. In fact, the naming of the dwarf planet is credited to an 11-year-old girl named Venetia Burney. Burney heard about the discovery of the new planet from her grandfather who had read it in the newspaper. The planet still didn’t have a name at this point, and Burney suggested the name, Pluto, as she had a keen interest in Greek and Roman mythology. This impressed her grandfather who made the suggestion to an astronomy friend at Oxford – he passed it onto the Lowell Observatory, and the planet was named!
These are just a few of the surprising facts about Pluto and the role int plays in our solar system. In school we used to love learning about the planets – they are so interesting and exciting, and it’s cool to think about what other life might be found on different planets and dwarf planets in our solar system, and beyond.