I grew up learning for many years that Pluto was the last planet in our solar system. We learned a mnemonic to remember the order of the planets, which obviously included Pluto. It obviously wasn’t very effective as I can’t even remember how it began at this point, but I do remember knowing one then! (Nine planets meme: here.)
There Once Was A Planet Named Pluto
With the progression of technology, we have found many objects in the sky and it became apparent that Pluto might not in fact be a planet. After the discovery of other planetoid objects just as Chiron and Eris, the International Astronomical Union created a definition of what a planet was. An object to had to fit a certain criteria to be considered such. It was then that Pluto was dubbed a Dwarf Planet in 2006.
The New Horizons Spacecraft
This spacecraft was launched almost a decade ago and is making history with its 3.6 billion mile journey over the last 9 years. It was the first mission to Pluto, and after only hoping this craft would reach as far out as the ex-planet, we will be watching and celebrating as it is finally reaching it on July 14th.
A full study will be made of the dwarf planet along with its moons, though we won’t have access to the photos and information for quite possibly a few months. There are seven instruments on this unmanned craft that will do a number of studies on the atmosphere, surfaces, and environments around Pluto. Once New Horizons has completed it’s analysis of Pluto, it will make it’s trek along the Kuiper Belt and explore the dwarf planet’s home solar system. It’s believed that Kuiper is home to more than 100,00 other, miniature worlds. Other information to look forward to from this space probe is what we will find on the far-side of Pluto. It will look for evidence of rings and magnetic fields.
The spacecraft has also gathered valuable information on Jupiter and other planets while on it’s voyage. Lightning was observed near gas poles on Jupiter, as well as slingshot-like gravity that actually assisted in trimming three years off the space probe’s journey to Pluto and beyond. Thanks to New Horizons, we also now know that Jupiter’s moon, Europa, has an ocean of liquid water under its frozen surface.
What We Hope To Learn About Pluto
Any information gathered will be very valuable to our knowledge Pluto and other objects in space, but it’s tough to accurately predict what we will find. Researchers have a few ideas in mind, such as a slight dust ring, and quite possibly liquid lakes of neon. Scientists and researchers have many hopes and possible ideas of what we might except to see, but we won’t know until we’ve reached our destination. Keep up with the mission and mark your calendar for July 14th. You don’t want to miss this monumental event!
Here’s a handy infographic from Exceed Internet with a recap of events and more information!