Pluto was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona. Astronomers had long predicted that there would be a ninth planet in the Solar System, whichthey called Planet X. Only 22 at the time, Tombaugh was given the laborious task of comparing photographic plates. These were two images of a region of the sky, taken two weeks apart. Any moving object,like an asteroid, comet or planet, would appear to jump from one photograph to the next.
After a year of observations, Tombaugh finally discovered an object in the right orbit, and declared that hehad discovered Planet X. Because they had discovered it, the Lowell team were allowed to name it. They settled on Pluto, a name suggested by an 11-year old school girl in Oxford, England (no, itwasn’t named after the Disney character, but the Roman god of the underworld).
The Solar System now had 9 planets.
Astronomers weren’t sure about Pluto’s mass until the discovery of its largest Moon,Charon, in 1978. And by knowing its mass (0.0021 Earths), they could more accurately gauge its size. The most accurate measurement currently gives the size of Pluto at 2,400 km (1,500 miles) across.Although this is small, Mercury is only 4,880 km (3,032 miles) across. Pluto is tiny, but it was considered larger than anything else past the orbit of Neptune.
Over the last few decades, powerful newground and space-based observatories have completely changed previous understanding of the outer Solar System. Instead of being the only planet in its region, like the rest of the Solar System, Pluto andits moons are now known to be just a large example of a collection of objects called the Kuiper Belt. This region extends from the orbit of Neptune out to 55 astronomical units (55 times the distanceof the Earth to the Sun).
Astronomers estimate that there are at least 70,000 icy objects, with the same composition as Pluto, that measure 100 km across or more in the Kuiper Belt. And...
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