Planet

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  • Topic: Pluto, Dwarf planet, Planet
  • Pages : 5 (1569 words )
  • Download(s) : 814
  • Published : March 28, 2005
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In the outer limits of our solar system there is a planet unlike any other, Pluto. Pluto was discovered in February of 1930 by an American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh. It is the only planet to have been discovered by an American. All though we have known of the existence of Pluto for over thirty years now, there are still many mysteries surrounding this celestial body. Being the farthest planet has made it difficult to study Pluto, Adding to the obscurity of this strange planet is that the capability to send spacecraft such distances has never been achieved. Through the wonders of science and astronomy, there are many things that can be determined, concluded, and hypothesized about this obscure planet.

Pluto's discovery was actually a fortunate accident. Clyde Tombaugh was searching for a ninth planet to explain inconsistencies in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Once further research was done regarding Pluto it was determined that the size of Pluto was too small to account for the irregularities of the orbits. Astronomers continued to search for a tenth planet, "Planet X." The calculations that made scientists to believe this have since been proven incorrect by the Voyager 2. With the more accurate mass of Neptune that Voyager 2 was able to produce, the discrepancies of the orbit were explained. It is no longer believed that there is a tenth planet.

Since it's discovery, the legitimacy of Pluto as actually being a planet, has long been debated. The numerous irregularities found when studying Pluto, coupled with its minuscule size has made it the object of controversy. For a while it was believed that Pluto could have possibly been another moon of the planet Neptune. This was often believed due to similarities between Pluto and the Neptune moon Triton. Triton and Pluto have similar surface and atmospheric properties, both being of near equal temperatures. Many believe that Triton was also once independent from Neptune, and that Triton, like Pluto, came from the Kuiper Belt explaining such relations. Also, both Pluto and Triton have very unusual orbits which does lead some to believe that there is a cosmic connection between the two.

Upon ruling out the possibility of Pluto being another moon of Neptune, Pluto was then classified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as a Trans-Neptunian Object, or TSO. With the discovery of the Kuiper Belt, and many small objects with properties similar to Pluto, questions arose about whether or not Pluto was just another one of these objects. To be qualified as a planet and object must orbit a star, is not star-like in that it is undergoing internal nuclear fusion, and has a gravitational force that will allow it to retain a spherical shape. Pluto certainly fulfills these requirements, however, there are Kuiper objects that also meet the same criteria. These objects have been classified as minor planets and have been assigned a numerical designation. Despite all the argument for demoting Pluto to a minor planet, its status has remained the same, even if solely contributed to maintaining historical context. As mentioned earlier, Pluto has a rather unusual orbit. Pluto, while it is the furthest planet from the sun, for twenty years during its two-hundred and forty nine year orbit, it is actually the eighth planet, crossing over Neptune's orbit. Regardless of the fact that the orbits of the two planets cross, their orbits will not allow for them to ever collide. This is mainly due to Pluto's orbiting not staying in the elliptic plane. Because of its unusual orbit, Pluto travels above and below Neptune as the cross, avoiding collision. What also allows these two bodies to cross paths and avoid impact is that when Pluto is at one side of the sun, Neptune is at the other. This is a result of Pluto taking three times as long to make one orbit around the sun in comparison to Neptune. Pluto crossed in front of Neptune most recently in January of 1979 and crossed back out in...
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