Something Unusual is Going on With Pluto Right Now
Pluto is a dwarf planet located in the Kuiper Belt, a region of the outer solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. It was discovered in 1930 by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh and was considered the ninth planet in our solar system until 2006, when it was reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Pluto has a diameter of about 2,377 kilometers (1,477 miles) and is about one-fifth the mass of Earth’s Moon. Its surface is composed of a mix of frozen nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, and its atmosphere is mostly nitrogen with traces of methane and carbon monoxide. Pluto has five known moons: Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx. Charon, the largest of these moons, is about half the size of Pluto and is considered by some scientists to be a binary system with Pluto, as the two objects orbit a common center of mass.
Pluto’s status as a dwarf planet has been a subject of controversy and debate since the IAU’s decision. Some scientists and members of the public believe that Pluto should still be considered a planet due to its size, while others support the IAU’s decision based on its orbit and characteristics. Regardless of its classification, Pluto remains an important object of study for astronomers and planetary scientists, as it provides insights into the history and formation of the outer solar system.
A massive, million-square-mile nitrogen glacier makes up Pluto’s heart, one of the distinguishing characteristics that New Horizons saw on approach and captured in high-definition images during the flyby.
Sputnik Planitia, the left ventricle of the heart, essentially forced the dwarf planet to rotate so that the basin now almost exactly opposes Pluto’s moon, Charon.
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