The Family Pet
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
Do you have a pet at home? Is it a dog, a cat, or an entirely different animal? Be it just one, or many, we love our pets. Although from a different species, we still treat them as part of the family. The solar system also has pets. These are known as dwarf planets. One of them is none other than Pluto, and there’s a lot of interesting things to know about him.
If you’re reading this and wondering whether Pluto was named after the popular Disney cartoon character Pluto the pup, then you will have to think again. This planet is named after the Roman god of the underworld, with some pinning him to the likes of Hades (A little dark don’t you think?).
There might be some good reason for that. Pluto is a planet that is so far from the warmth of the Sun, that there is no doubt that life as we know it doesn’t exist there. We’ve only known very little about this dwarf planet that’s smaller than our moon. That is until 2015, when the New Horizons spacecraft finally reached Pluto, almost 10 years after it was launched from Earth in 2006. How old were you when that happened?
How far away?
You must be wondering how far away this little dwarf planet is for it to take so long. If you measure the distance from the Sun, scientists have measured Pluto to be over 5 billion kilometres away from the Sun. That’s so far away that it takes sunlight more than five hours to get there.
Life is slow as it can be on Pluto. A day lasts around 153 hours (about six Earth days) on Pluto. If you wanted to spend a year here, you would have missed 248 years on Earth. If you thought that time was passing by too fast for your comfort, here is the Planet for you.
Anybody out there?
Even if you moved to Pluto, you would spend a very lonely life. Temperatures can get as low as -233 degrees Celsius (a little colder and the air turns into liquid). Not only would you have to carry a super-powerful heater, you would also need to carry a lot of air with you, not only for the ride there, but also to breathe while you spend your vacation in this chilly place. The air is super thin here because of the low gravity. The thin tufts of air you’ll breathe will have poisonous stuff such as methane and carbon monoxide. You’ll have a hard time finding neighbours with conditions like these.
Pluto is situated in a place called the Kuiper Belt, which is the outer area of the Solar System. Beyond that is the vast emptiness of space and its many mysteries. Unfortunately, the Kuiper Belt has a lot of asteroids littering the area and some other dwarf planets like it. Scientists didn’t know that when they discovered Pluto. Back then, they considered Pluto a planet but with newer discoveries, scientists had no choice but to consider it a dwarf planet instead.
Just because we covered all the major planets doesn’t mean that our Solar System doesn’t have other interesting things to talk about. What other wonders does our home system hold?