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GREGORY

L.

VOGT

3 1033 0250 6 3 7

j523, 482
Vogt, Gregory L

Pluto

ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY


FORT WAYNE, INDIANA 46802

You may return

this

book

to

any location of

the Allen County Public Library.

'$

DEMCO

GREGORY

L.

VOGT

PLCJTO

Gateway Solar System


The Millbrook Press
rookfield,

Connectic

900 Websl
PO Bex 2270
Wayne, IN 46801-2270

Fort

Published by The Millbrook Press

2 Old

New

Milford

Road
06804

Brookfield, Connecticut

Copyright

1994 by The Millbrook Press


reserved

All rights

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Vogt, Gregory.
Pluto

cm.

p.

Gregory

L.

Vogt.

(Gateway solar system)

Includes bibliographical references and index.


Summary: Presents information on Pluto, the farthest known
and its moon, Charon. Includes a glossary and "Pluto Quick
ISBN 1-56294-393-6 (lib. bdg.)
1

Pluto (Planet)

Juvenile

Juvenile literature

[1

literature.

2.

Pluto (Planet)]

planet.

Facts."

Project Mariner
Title.

II.

Gateway solar system


QB701.V64 1994
93-11224 CIP
523.4 '82-^c20

AC

I.

Series:

Vogt. Gregory

Photographs and illustrations courtesy of: National Aeronautics


and Space Administration: cover, pp. 4. 12. 16. 18. 20. 21, 23,
Lowell Observatory: pp.

7, 9;

US

Naval Observatory: p

Pat Rawllings/SAIC:

Solar system diagram by

p.

25.

Anne Canevari Green

14:

UTO

llydeTombaugh was

bom on

an

Illinois

farm

in

1906.

many farm-raised children, he was likely to become


farmer when he grew up. But Clyde had other dreams.

Like

His uncle Lee had a small telescope, and he

look through

Clyde saw moons

it.

He

he saw the rings of Saturn.

Clyde did well


to

go

to college.

own

his

in

and

also read his uncle's

am-

of

its

high school, but he had no

When

telescope. His

he was 20, he decided


telescope

first

Clyde

circling Jupiter,

book and memorized many

ateur astronomy

let

pages.

money

to build

was not very good,

but the second one he built gave him beautiful views of


the

moon and planets.


Clyde made drawings

Jupiter

and sent them

Flagstaff, Arizona.

The

of the surfaces of

to the

Mars and

Lowell Observatory

in

director of the observatory wrote

back and asked Clyde some questions. Eventually, Clyde

was offered a
in

When

he boarded a

train to Flagstaff

January of 1929 he had no idea that he would soon

discover a

<

job.

new

planet.

Pluto appears as a thin,

dim crescent

billion miles (5.6 billion kilometers)

in the light of the sun,

away.

more than 3.5

At that time, astronomers


jects in

outer space)

farthest

known

knew

planet

who

(scientists

study ob-

The

of only eight planets.

was Neptune. However,

several

astronomers, including Percival Lowell, founder of the

Lowell Observatory, believed there was another planet.

Because of gravity
attract

each other),

all

(a force that

planets pull

causes objects to

on each

changes the shape of

their orbits (paths)

But the

known

pull of

all

the

account for changes

in

other,

which

around the sun.

planets couldn't completely

the paths of orbit of Uranus

and

Neptune. Astronomers concluded there must be another


planet in the solar system. This mystery planet must

change the

orbits of

Uranus and Neptune, astronomers

thought. Lowell predicted

nicknamed Planet

planet,

found.

The search

For

mystery
it

was

to Clyde.

pictures of the stars.

and

to look for the

X, but he died before

many months, Clyde

and took
pictures

fell

where

stayed up every clear night

He would

take

one

set of

then, several nights later, take another set

same sections of the sky. By comparthe same stars taken several days apart,

of pictures of the

ing pictures of

he hoped to find the mystery planet.

Clyde was using a technique


called parallax.

for planet searching

To understand what

parallax

is,

hold up

Young Clyde Tombaugh


at the

peers into the eyepiece of the Astrograph telescope

Lowell Observatory.

one
far

your eyes and look

finger in front of

away.

Open your

close your right eye

right

at

eye and close the

and open the

left.

Your

something
left.

Then,

finger

seems

jump from one side to the other! It will also seem to


jump if you hold your finger at arm's length, but not as
much. The farther away the object is, the smaller the
jump. This appearance of movement when an object is
viewed from different positions is known as parallax.
to

To

search for a planet, astronomers use the tech-

nique of parallax by taking pictures of stars several days


or

more

apart.

Every day, Earth moves approximately

1.6 million miles (about 2.6 million kilometers) along


orbit in space.
is

like

Even

so, stars are

that they take years to

planets, going

be seen

to

move

in

six

days apart

the constellation of

one eighth
his

of

so far

away from

change positions

in

many

the sky. But

sky pictures and checked

he found a very

Gemini

that shifted a

an inch (3.5 millimeters)

faint "star" in
little

in his

discovery on February 18, 1930.

showed

Earth

a few days.

millions of stars before

that

taken

around the sun, are much closer and can

Clyde searched

made

at pictures

having eyes 10 million miles (16 million kilome-

apart!

ters)

Looking

its

this shift

were taken

six

more than
photos.

The

He

pictures

days apart. The

Tombaugh
taken

six

spotted the

movement

of Pluto

(marked by arrows) on these photographic

days apart.

small shift of the object indicated that

be a planet, but

to

it

was

close

enough

at least a billion miles (1.6 billion

kilometers) farther out from the sun than Neptune. Clyde

Tombaugh had
in

the sky

be.

discovered Planet

where

Percival Lowell

The planet was

the symbol of 9

eventually

formed from

very near the place

had predicted

named

initials

Pluto

it

would

and given

of Percival Lowell.

plates,

e Most Distant Plane


It's

easy to see

clear night,

eye.

why

was so

Pluto

about 3,000

difficult to find.

200,000

stars

become

scope, powerful

visible.

enough

about 20

you can see jumps

to

Tombaugh

out, Pluto

picked

it

starlight,

about

With a medium-sized

to see Pluto, the

number

million.

Until

naked

stars are visible to the

With a pair of binoculars to magnify

On

tele-

of stars

Clyde

looked

just like millions

The

all

of other faint stars.

Pluto has a very strange orbit.

orbits of

are in the shape of ellipses. (An ellipse

is

planets

somewhat

flattened circle.) Therefore, as a planet orbits the sun,


is

closer to the sun at

some

true with Pluto as well.

times than at others. This

But Pluto's

orbit

is

flat.)

This

means

that Pluto, as

it

is

much more

flattened than the others. (Only Mercury's orbit


as

it

is

almost

orbits the sun,

ranges

from as close as about 2,700 million miles (4,425 million


kilometers) to as far

away

as about 4,500 million miles

(7,375 million kilometers) from the sun.

between Pluto's

closest point

and

its

The

difference

farthest

is

1,800

million miles (2,950 million kilometers)!

Because Pluto's

orbit

is

so flattened,

it is

the farthest planet from the sun. Pluto takes

10

not always

248 Earth

Pluto

Neptune
Uranus

Mars
Earth

Venus
Mercury

Inner Solar System

For periods during

around the sun,


the orbit of Neptune.

its

Pluto passes inside

orbit

12

years to

every

make

orbit,

just

one

around the sun. Once

trip

Pluto gets so close to the sun that

it

dips

within the orbit of the planet Neptune. For about


years,
is

Neptune

is

and

will

be

20

the farthest planet from the sun. This

happening now. Neptune

Pluto

in

until

is

farther

when

1999,

from the sun than

Pluto crosses outside

Neptune's orbit and heads back into deep space.

Because

some people have won-

their orbits cross,

Pluto and Neptune are in danger of colliding.

dered

if

There

isn't

any chance of

happening because the

that

angles of the planets' orbits prevent


is

crossing Neptune's orbit,

of millions of miles

it is

it.

Even when Pluto

never closer than hundreds

from Neptune.

Double Planet

Even when viewed with the

largest telescopes, Pluto

a very faint object. Yet careful study has yielded


interesting facts

Pluto

is

about

this

a very small planet.

kilometers) in diameter.

tem are
In

most

is

many

distant neighbor to Earth.

It is

only 1,420 miles (2,280

Seven moons

in the solar sys-

larger than Pluto! Furthermore, Pluto

is

not alone.

1978, astronomer James Christy noticed that pictures

of Pluto

showed a bulge

in

the planet. In several differ-

13

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i ,>.

*'

,.
<#

**%

**

!
-

,.-

-..iftA*..-

':

4.

'

/v

A%

'

'.

ent pictures Christy examined, the bulge appeared in


different places. Christy

concluded that Pluto had a moon.

The moon was named Charon.


Christy realized that

Earth's

Charon was no ordinary moon.

moon, about one quarter the diameter

orbits Earth at a distance of

lometers).

Charon

of Earth,

238,000 miles (384,000

orbits Pluto at a distance of a

ki-

mere

12,000 miles (about 20,000 kilometers)! Only the Martian

moon Phobos

But Phobos

is

orbits closer to

more

like

its

planet than Charon.

an overgrown rock when com-

pared to Charon.

Charon has a diameter


meters).

It is

nearly

one

of

half the

732 miles (1,200

kilo-

diameter of Pluto. This

makes Charon one of the largest moons in the solar system when compared to its planet. And because Charon
is

so close to Pluto,

some astronomers

call

the two a

double planet
Their closeness links Pluto and Charon into a single
rotation.

days.

Pluto spins

Charon

on

its

axis

once every 6.4 Earth

orbits Pluto in exactly the

Astronomer James Christy

first

same time

detected Pluto's moon, Charon,

ture.

15

span.

in this pic-

Like Earth's
itself

moon, Charon presents

to Pluto at

all

times. (To see

an adult and a small child

to join

each other. Because the child


the child will
the adult

make

makes a

ning, they will face

is

the

what

same

this

side of

is like,

invite

hands and spin around


smaller than the adult,

a larger circle around the adult as

small

circle.

And

while they are spin-

each other.)

Axis

Charon

Pluto

and Charon revolve around an imaginary axis, as if they were two


twirling baton. Charon, the smaller of the two, has the larger orbit.

ends of a

16

and Charon appear

Pluto

ice with

nearly

Pluto

When

900

is

be made up mostly of water

rocky cores. At their great distance from the

sun, they are never


to melt.

to

Pluto

warmed enough by
is

closest to the sun, the

times fainter than

farthest

it

it

is

appears from Earth!

and Charon extremely

Pluto

is

is still

When

more than 2,400


This makes Pluto

cold, approximately

below zero Fahrenheit (230 degrees


There

sun

appears from Earth.

from the sun, the sun

times fainter than

the sun's heat

380 degrees

Celsius).

something strange about the surfaces of

and Charon.

Pluto's surface appears to

be cov-

ered with frozen methane gas, while Charon's surface

covered with water

ice.

Charon's

lesser gravity

allowed the methane to escape while


fore

it

could freeze

it

is

may have

was a

gas, be-

solid.

Another strange thing

is

that Pluto

and Charon share

an atmosphere. Because the two bodies are so close

to

each other, Pluto's atmosphere wraps around Charon as

The atmosphere is very thin and consists of methane gas. This was discovered during a very rare event.
In its motion around the sun, Pluto and Charon passed
exactly in front of a very distant star. Astronomers on

well.

17

board the National Aeronautics and Space Administra-

(NASA) Kuiper Airborne Observatory

tion

with a telescope) were ready for the event.


the star's brightness as Pluto
of

and Charon caused the

and Charon passed

When no

star's light to

longer blocked, the

plane

They watched

Instead of quickly blinking out the star's

it.

off.

(a jet

light,

fade before

star's light

in front

it

Pluto

blinked

grew brighter

again. This fading effect led the astronomers to conclude


that Pluto

and Charon had an atmosphere

was

fil-

and Charon's

at-

that

tering the star's light.

Astronomers

mosphere

is

now

think that Pluto

a temporary feature.

When

Pluto

are nearest to the sun, the sun's heat (what


of

warms

it)

Some

methane

atmosphere. Later,

turns into gas that

when

ther from the sun, the

little

methane on the surface

the frozen

of that

and Charon

Pluto

methane

is

of Pluto.

becomes an

and Charon
refreezes

there

travel far-

on the surface

The atmosphere doesn't reappear until Pluto


and Charon are again near the sun, some 200 years
of Pluto.

later.

From

distant Pluto

and Charon the sun appears small and

19

faint.

The best picture of Pluto and


Charon ever taken from Earth
shows a pair of bright, blurry
spheres. (The squares in the
picture

were produced by the

camera.

One

of the big questions

they

came

is

from.

that Pluto

that Pluto

is

is

Many

about Pluto and Charon


theories have

an escaped

a fragment

moon

left

been

where

offered.

of Neptune.

by a great

is

One

Another

collision

is

between

large objects that took place during the formation of the


solar system.

Or Pluto may have been a

the formation of the solar system.

20

leftover

from

Charon appears
than Pluto.

to

Somehow,

have formed
Pluto

at a different time

and Charon ran

other and remained together after the collision.

son astronomers believe that a

collision

into

One

took place

both Pluto and Charon are tipped sideways. That


rotate with their axes almost in the plane

each

is

is,

reathat

they

marked by

Pluto's orbit, rather than almost at right angles to this

far better picture

was taken

from above Earth's atmosphere


by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The faint glow around
the two spheres was caused by
minor focusing problems.

21

plane, as

nearly

many

other planets do. Instead of having axes

up and down, the axes are sideways.

could account for

One
Still,

test their theories

is

data from close-up

about Pluto and Charon.

there are lots of clues floating around in the solar

system.

One

Triton

about the same

and

collision

this.

thing astronomers lack

observation to

is

very big clue

is

Neptune's moon, Triton.

size as

Pluto and

is

made

of ice

and Charon. Triton has a

rock, as are Pluto

thin

atmosphere and geysers spewing out nitrogen gas from


its

surface.

Astronomers think Pluto and Triton

may be

very similar objects and that by studying Triton, they can


learn about Pluto as well.

Mission to Pluto
In

1962,

NASA

planet Venus.

and study

it

It

launched the Mariner 2 spacecraft to the

was the

first

spacecraft to

successfully. Since that

Scientists think that Pluto


icy surface

shows

Voyager 2

spacecraft.

a planet

launch,

NASA

similar to Neptune's moon Triton. Triton's


and canyons in this picture taken by NASA's

may be

craters, ridges,

first

visit

22

has sent spacecraft to

tem with one exception


Pluto to the

though
Pluto

still

is

in

list

of the planets in our solar sys-

all

NASA

Pluto.

hopes

add

to

early in the twenty-first century.

Al-

the early planning stages, a mission to

likely to fly

by the planet as early as the year

2006. While whizzing by, the spacecraft


tures of the planet

and

its

will

moon and even

mosphere. Perhaps the spacecraft

take pic-

test

its

at-

provide enough

will

information about the double planet for astronomers to

decide where Pluto and Charon

came

from.

ne More Mystery
Do you remember how

the orbits of

Neptune and Ura-

nus provided a clue to the existence of Pluto? Because


of irregularities in these orbits, astronomers
that a mysterious Planet
after Pluto

X was

pulling

concluded

on them. But

was discovered, the mystery remained. Pluto

turned out to be too small, with too

little

gravity, to

pletely

account for the irregular

An

view of a future spacecraft mission to Pluto and Charon.

artist's

24

orbits.

com-

This has led as-

may not be the last planet


There may be another Planet X,

tronomers to think that Pluto


in

our solar system.

perhaps even hundreds of Plutos,


farthest reaches of

circling the

sun

in

our solar system, waiting to be

covered.

26

the
dis-

PLUTO QUICK FACTS


Named

Pluto:

after the ancient

Roman god

of the underworld.

Pluto

Earth

Millions of miles

3,596

93

Millions of kilometers

5,896

149.6

Average Distance from the Sun

Revolution (one orbit around the sun)

247.68 Earth years

year

Average Orbital Speed


Miles per second
Kilometers per second

2.89

18.6

4.74

30

Rotation (spinning once)

6 days, 9 hours,

24 hours

18 minutes

Diameter

at

Equator

Miles

1,420

7,926

Kilometers

2,280

12,756

Surface Gravity (compared to Earth's)

0.06

amount of matter contained


compared to Earth)

0.002

methane and
unknown gas

nitrogen,

Mass

(the

in Pluto,

Atmosphere
other,
Satellites

Pluto's

(moons)

Moon

Charon

Diameter

732 mi
1,200

km

27

Distance

oxygen

From Planet
12,200 mi

20,000

km

GLOSSARY
Astronomer

scientist

who

other objects
Axis (plural: axes)

An
its

Double planet

in

imaginary
north to

its

A nickname

studies planets,

moons,

and

stars,

outer space.

line

running through a planet from

south pole.

given to Pluto and Charon because

each other and

of their nearness to

their closeness

in size.

Ellipse

The shape

of the orbital paths that planets follow

around the sun.


Gravity

Hubble Space

The

Telescope
Kuiper Airborne

Observatory

force that causes

all

objects to attract each other.

orbiting observatory

launched by

NASA

in

1990.

A NASA

aircraft that carries a large

telescope

and

other astronomical instruments.

Mass

NASA's first successful interplanetary mission


Venus in 1962).
The amount of matter contained in an object.

NASA

National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Orbit

The path a planet

Mariner 2

or a
Parallax

moon

(to

takes to travel around the sun,

to travel

around a

planet.

The apparent shift that an object makes against a


more distant background when it is viewed from
different directions.

Rotation

One complete orbit of a planet around the sun. or


a moon around a planet.
The spinning of a planet or moon around its axis.

Satellite

Revolution

small

body.

body

in

satellite

"artificial,"

space that orbits around a larger

may be

"natural, " as a

as a spacecraft.

28

moon,

or

FOR FURTHER READING


Asimov,

I.

Isaac Asimou's Library of the Universe, Pluto:

Double

Planet? Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1990.

Asimov,

I.

How

Did

We

Find Out About Pluto?

New

NP

York: Walker

and Company, 1991.

NASA. Our Solar System

Geologic Snapshot,

ton, D.C.: National Aeronautics

Tombaugh, C, and

157. Washing-

and Space Administration, 1991.

Moore. Out of the Darkness


Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1980.
P.

29

The Planet Pluto.

Page numbers

Mass, 27

in italics refer

Mercury, 10

to illustrations.

Methane
Astronomers,

6, 8,

27

19
National Aeronautics and Space

Atmosphere, 17, 19, 27


Axis, 15,

gas, 17, 19,

21-22

Administration (NASA), 19,

22,24
Charon, 14, 15-17, 16, 19-22,
20, 24,
Christy,

James, 13, 15

27

planet, 13, 14,

Parallax, 6,

Phobos, 15

15

10

diameter, 15,

discovery

Gravity, 6, 24,

of,

27
8-9, 9

27
Charon)
orbit, 10, 12, 27
quick facts, 27
rotation, 15, 21, 27

Gemini, 8

gravity, 24,

moon

27

Hubble Space Telescope, 21


Jupiter,

21

atmosphere, 17, 19, 27

Ellipse,

24

24

Orbit, 6, 10, 12,

Pluto, 4, 20,

Earth,

20, 22,

6, 12, 13,

27

Diameter, 15,

Double

Neptune,

of (see

spacecraft

visits to,

22, 24,

surface, 17

Kuiper Airborne Observatory,

temperature, 17

19
Revolution,
Lowell, Percival, 6, 9

27

Rotation, 15, 21,

27

Lowell Observatory, 5
Saturn, 5

Mariner 2 spacecraft, 22

Spacecraft, 22, 24,

30

25

25

Sun, 10, 13, 18, 19, 27

Triton, 22,

23

Uranus,

24

Surface, 17
6,

Temperature, 17

Tombaugh, Clyde, 5-6,

7, 8,

Voyager 2 spacecraft, 22

31

ABOUT THE AUTHO


Gregory

L.

Vogt works

for

NASA's Education

Division

Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


He works with astronauts in developing educational
at the

videos for schools.


Mr. Vogt previously served as executive director of the

Discovery World

Technology

in

Museum

in

and

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was an eighth-

grade science teacher.


degrees

of Science, Economics,

He

holds bachelor's and master's

science from the University of Wisconsin at

Milwaukee, as well as a doctorate


instruction

in

curriculum and

from Oklahoma State University.

SOLAR SYSTE
MERCURY
VENUS
MARS
JUPITER

SATURN

URANUS
NEPTUNE
PLUTO

by Gregory;

Each of these
tastic

L.

Vogt

strikingly illustrated

books

is

a fan-

journey through the solar system to one of the

planets. Expert science writer

Gregory

L.

Vogt

provides the most current information available from

NASA

about the planets' surface features, weather,

atmosphere, moons,
features. Color

rings,

and other unusual

photographs and

highlight the texts.

ISBN 1-56294-393-6
ill

iii nun

90000

>

Millbrook

781562"943936

illustrations