Pluto and Charon is the only dual planetary system in the Solar System. Its centre is located between Pluto and Charon. The centre is eight times closer to Pluto than it is to its largest moon. Charon’s diameter is approximately two times smaller than its ‘brother’. Its size is roughly equal to Texas, USA. What is interesting is the fact that the two bodies always face each other from the same side.
This is where, 4.8 billion km away from Earth, NASA launched its space probe, New Horizons, in 2006. It is expected to reach its destination on 14 July. It will fly past Pluto’s only 12,500 km away from the planet’s surface. National Geographic invites people to become witnesses of this historic moment. The channel will show a special programme on 15 July titled ‘Mission: Pluto’.
The probe has already begun transmitting data to Earth. As it turns out, Pluto has a reddish colour and Charon is grey. Unknown dark spots have been spotted near Pluto’s equator (500 km in length) and a heart-shaped dark spot.
Connection with New Horizons is made difficult because of the great distance: it takes the signal 4.5 hours to travel to and from the probe. Earth turns so much during this period of time that scientists are forced to turn their long-distance communication antennae in order to maintain contact with the probe.
Pluto has been one of the most mysterious planets of the Solar System since its discovery in the 1930s. In 1951, astronomer Gerard Kuiper presented a theory that this planet is part of a much more expansive collection of celestial bodies located millions of kilometres away behind Neptune. It turned out later on that the Kuiper belt is the largest structure in our planetary system, as it is made up of ancient icy mountainous objects that formed during the era of the birth of the planets.
Kuiper belt changed our expectations regarding the development of the Solar System, which is divided into several zones. The 1st group consists of internal mountainous planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury). The 2nd group includes the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune). The 3rd group, Kuiper belt, includes more than 100,000 objects whose diameter exceeds 100 km. Scientists have only theoretical knowledge of the 4th zone: Oort cloud.
Pluto is one of the most well-known elements of Kuiper belt. It takes Pluto 248 years to spin around the Sun. The last time Pluto came the closest to the Sun was 1989. It is 40 times further away from the star than Earth. With that, sunlight on Pluto is 1000 times weaker.
The length of a single day on Pluto is nearly six times longer than that on Earth, as it takes Pluto 6.4 Earth days to revolve around its axis. The same applies to Charon.
Pluto’s pressure is 50,000 lower than that on Earth and approximately 300 times lower than it is on Mars. Gravitation is equal to roughly 6% of Earth’s gravity. According to research, the dwarf planet’s largest satellite lacks atmosphere.