Some are shared on social media memes with the impressive evolution that our knowledge of Pluto has undergone over the years.
Until 1930, no one knew that this stone existed at the edge of the solar system. With the naked eye it is not possible to observe it, and it is so far away that until the 20th century no one had ever noticed Pluto.
In 1930, seen through telescopes on the earth’s surface, Pluto was just a tiny, insignificant point of light in a sea of other points.
In 1978, Charon was discovered. After all, the Pluto point had a companion. Viewed through ground-based telescopes, Charon was found to be normal.
In 1994, with the Hubble Space Telescope, Pluto was revealed to be a fuzzy point.
And that same year, with the same telescope, it was possible to photograph two diffuse objects together (Pluto and Charon).
In 2005/2006, other moons were observed in the Pluto system by the Hubble Space Telescope. Yes, Pluto became a “system”, in which a set of moons followed the lord Pluto.
The same telescope has observed this amazing system from time to time.
Em 2010 (not 2013), several Hubble Space Telescope images of Pluto were combined and an image of what Pluto’s surface would look like was created.
The image, taken using computer programs, appeared to show a smooth surface, as that was how Pluto was seen from afar.
In 2015, the probe New Horizons crossed the system of Pluto and suddenly a whole new world opened up to us.
We now know that Pluto:
– has at least 5 moons in your mini-system.
– is probably a binary system (with Charon).
– has a thin layer of atmosphere composed of nitrogen/nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide, which come from the surface.
– has the heart-shaped “Sputnik Planitia” on its surface, which contains sand dunes (in which the sand is made up of solid methane ice): this surface of methane ice could be fun for astronaut skiers.
– The other hemisphere of Pluto has more nitrogen/nitrogen and carbon monoxide ice.
– most likely have cryovolcanoes – ice volcanoes – on their surface.
– and it probably has an inner ocean: an ocean of liquid water below its surface.
So since 1930, nothing has changed on Pluto.
But for us, it has changed a lot! In less than 100 years, our knowledge of this object at the edge of the solar system has changed dramatically.
The diffuse and irrelevant point which is very far away, turned out to be surprising: with unimaginable dynamics.
We now know that the Pluto system is much more complex than previously thought.
Pluto has an astonishing diversity of points of interest, both on its surface, below its surface and in its vicinity.
Pluto has become, in Spock’s words, fascinating!