The renowned American astronomer Percival Lowell deduced the existence of Pluto in the early 1900’s from his observations of the orbit of the planet Uranus. Lowell believed that irregularities in its orbit could only be accounted for by the existence of another undiscovered planet.
The discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 proved Lowell right in the main. Another body was influencing the orbit of Uranus. But what kind of body was it?
Pluto was a different kind of planet. Its orbit was elliptical rather than circular. It was a rocky planet at the end of a line of gas giants rather than grouped with its rocky cousins in the inner solar system.
Continue reading “Pluto: An oddity at the edge of the solar system’s planets”
Roughly three hundred days ago New Horizons flew past what used to be the ninth planet heading for scattered debris that failed to accrete into that Main Line district of the solar system, the eight planets.
A milestone of sorts was reached this week as NASA announced that the New Horizons’ spacecraft has sent back roughly half of the data it captured during its flyby of Pluto in July 2015.
Every new revelation seems to make Pluto more interesting. Instead of a dead frozen world Pluto is now known to be a geologically active center of a mini-system of five moons. Pluto is no longer an after-thought in the solar system, a curiosity, a place we should eventually explore.
Moreover Pluto is the just first Kuiper Belt Object to be explored. If Pluto is this interesting what will other Kuiper Belt Objects be like? How likely is it that Pluto proves to be the most interesting or important object in a region which may contain as many as 35,000 objects with a diameter of 60 miles or more?
Continue reading “New Horizons: Seeking out the poorer quadrants where the ragged planets go”