Pluto was spotted by Clyde Tombaugh as he scanned photos of the sky looking for any differences in the pictures.
Since its discovery in the 1930s until 2005, Pluto was a planet, the most distant from the Sun. However when astronomers discovered the kuiper belt object Eris in 2003, its days of being a planet were numbered. Eris with its companion moon Dysnomia was calculated to be larger than Pluto. Scientists didn't want to call it a planet and came up with a three point law on what constitutes a planet. In a vote at the end of a meeting of the International Astronomical Union, the world governing body for all things to do with space, a vote was held on the law and was passed. The requirement for a planet are :
As Pluto failed the third test, it was no longer considered a planet and demoted. The third rule is a flawed rule and could rule out Earth as a planet because some asteroids have been known to cross it path. There are plans afoot to reclassify it. The lead scientist on the New Horizons project was extremely scathing of the downgrading saying it stunk but could have used harsher words. The planet is named after the Roman God of the Underworld. It is not named after the Disney dog of the same name. It was named by Venetia Burney, a British school girl who entered a competition to name it.
Pluto was the last "planet" to be visited by a space craft but that is all about to change, the N.A.S.A. space probe, New Horizons is currently on route to rendezvous with the "planet" on or about 14th July 2015. New Horizons is the fastest space craft built to explore the outer regions of the space. It took Cassini-Huygens just over three years to reach the orbit of Jupiter, the New Horizons craft took a third of that time.
New Horizons only flew past the planet because the probe didn't have enough fuel to slow it down. Had it had the necessary fuel to slow it down, it would have taken longer to get there. Pluto is not the end of the journey for New Horizons, it is carrying on to rendezvous with an asteroid in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69 and will get there at the beginning of 2019. ref: N.A.S.A.
According to scientists looking at the data that has come back from the New Horizons probe, they believe they discovered water ice on the planet. Where there's water, there could be life albeit at a very basic microbial level. The New Horizons probe was not equipped with any devices that could confirm any life forms on the planet. Life on such a cold and far off planet, that would be something. N.A.S.A.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, lets clear a thing up about it and a certain cartoon animal. Pluto is not named after a cartoon dog. Disney named its cartoon dog Pluto in honour of the discovery, not the other way round. Pluto was named after the Ancient Roman God Pluto, God of the Underworld as mentioned above. All the other planets in except Earth is named after a Roman God so it made sense to continue the ritual.
Pluto had for most of the time it was known was seen as a lonely planet like Mercury and Venus but on the 22nd June 1978, its first moon was discovered by James Christy at the United States Naval Observatory. After New Horizons was launched, its other moons were discovered starting with Nix in 2005. All the moons are named after a connection to the underworld to keep consistent.
There is no intelligent life, no Plutonians living and breathing on the planet. One of the surprising things that was discovered by the New Horizons mission was evidence of water on the planet and there might be an ocean on the planet. Any water would be frozen unless there's an underground heat source. Where there is water, there could be life in the form of microbial life forms. Life exists in the harshest of atmospheres here on Earth so why not on Pluto. ref:Astrobio
There is unlikely to be any complex life forms on Pluto. However, as the Sun grows, it will get bigger and the Goldilocks Zone will move out and one day that zone will encompass Pluto. By the time the zone reaches Pluto, Earth will no longer be able to support life as we know it. Hopefully by that time, humanity has managed to find a way off the planet and living further out than Pluto.
Scientists believe there might be another planet out beyond the orbit of Pluto, a new ninth planet. It is all theory at the moment but one day, we may well find out if there is any large planets out beyond Pluto. There might well be more than just one planet beyond Pluto, may be tens, all too faint to be spotted by telescopes at the present.
One of the strongest drivers for there being another planet out there is the paths of objects in the Kuiper Belt which seemingly behave differently to how they are supposed to be. There is a theory that the reason is caused by the ninth planet that was chucked out of at the beginning. As its so far away its hard to see and you definitely won't be able to see it looking up into the nights sky.
|Charon||June 22, 1978|
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