Where Did Pluto Come From

Except that it doesn't orbit another planet—and, indeed, has a moon of its own—Pluto looks more like a jovian moon than a planet. It fits into neither the terrestrial nor jovian mold. Some

(Image from NASA)

Astro Byte

Astronomical objects (however minor) are typically named by their discoverers. In 1919, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) was given the task of bringing order to the then rather unorganized naming of surface features on Mars and the moon. Since then, this organization has been the only internationally recognized authority on the naming of features on solar system objects and objects outside the solar system. For more on this topic, check out www.iau.org/IAU/ Activities/nomenclature/.

astronomers believe that Pluto is really a renegade moon, escaped from Neptune's gravitational influence due to a collision or interaction involving Triton, Pluto, Charon, and Nereid. Others regard it as a kind of spare part, something left over from the creation of the solar system, and perhaps only one of a number of such objects in the outer reaches of the solar system, the Kuiper Belt.

The Least You Need to Know

V The jovian realm is rich in moons (over 70 are currently known) and planetary rings. Some jovian moons are volcanically active, others have measurable atmospheres.

V Rings are characteristic of all the jovian planets, but only those of Saturn are readily seen from the earth without special optics.

V Planetary rings consist of small orbiting particles, including ice crystals, perhaps fragments from pulverized moons that strayed too close to the parent planet and were pulled apart.

V Io has frequent volcanic eruptions that loft material into orbit around Jupiter. Europa, also orbiting Jupiter, may have liquid water beneath its frozen, cracked surface.

V Pluto, discovered in 1930, does not fit neatly into either the terrestrial or jovian category and is in many ways more like a jovian moon than a planet. It may be an escaped moon of Neptune.

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