Pluto, the Roman god of death, has attracted much media attention in recent days now that the New Horizons mission will pass near this planetary system and take the most detailed photos never seen. New Horizons is on its way to study the band of asteroids and outer planetoids in the solar system known as the Kuyper Belt.
The planet is not alone. In recent years scientists have confirmed that it has five moons: Charon, Nix, Hydra, Cerberus, and Styx. Most are very small and were discovered by the Hubble telescope in the last decade. Charon was discovered in 1978 and is so large that, along with Pluto, it’s considered part of a double-planet system whose center of gravity is in the space between them.
There is much excitement in the scientific world. Today we’re expecting the most detailed pictures of Pluto ever taken, however even in the last few days the pictures that have come have provided astronomers with unforeseen details. For instance, Pluto is no longer a white dot in the sky, a lump of white ice in space. It has some mineral and chemical complexity. This is attested by the colors of the planet, which was just discovered to be red, with several other colors on its surface.
Notice I said planet. Many of the scientists who rebelled against the arrogant demotion of Pluto to the status of dwarf planet by the astronomical bureaucracy the past decade are now emboldened and refusing to call it a dwarf planet. Some are making calls to reinstitute Pluto as a planet.
For the latest images, visit this page from NASA.