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8 things you might not know about Pluto
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A computer rendering shows the Kuiper Belt in relation to our solar system. - photo by Corinn Sessions
Do you remember the New Horizons space probe? It flew by Pluto back in July.

Some people may still have small chips on their shoulder from Pluto losing its planetary status, but that doesnt make it less fascinating. The data files that NASA collected from the recent flyby are so large that it will take 18 months to download. That is a lot of information.

So what did scientists discover about Pluto? And is Pluto the ultimate goal for the space probe? Actually, its not. Pluto was one of the goals, but not the only one.

The little-probe-that-could is still hurtling through space with a heliocentric velocity (the fancy way of saying how fast it is traveling in respect to the sun) of .62 miles per second, or a break-neck speed of 2,237 miles per hour. If you are wondering why velocity is relevant to the position of the sun, this video puts our solar system and its own velocity into perspective.

Here are eight factoids about Pluto that you may not know:

  1. Pluto hasnt completed a full revolution around the sun since its discovery. It actually takes 248 Earth years to make a full orbit.
  2. There are fiveyes, fivemoons that orbit Pluto: Charon (which is actually roughly half the size of Pluto itself), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.
  3. Pluto is smaller than Earths moon.
  4. Pluto is part of the Kuiper Belt (or the Edgemont-Kuiper belt, named for the scientists who theorized and confirmed its existence), which is a debris field that orbits the sun beyond Neptune. It is called a "belt" because it neatly wraps itself around the solar system to keep its space pants in place.
  5. The rotation of Pluto is backwards from that of the Earth. If one were to observe the rise and fall of the sun in Plutos atmosphere, it would rise in the west and set in the east.
  6. Even though there is a huge distance from the sun to Pluto, there is still enough light reaching it that one could read at full noon. Granted, this full-noon light is comparable to twilight on Earth.
  7. The distance from Pluto to Sun: 3.7 billion miles.
  8. Pluto has a blue atmosphere and fields of red ice near its poles. Scientists are debating whether or not the dwarf planet has a magnetic field. The probe is equipped with high-tech cameras that detect different wavelengths of light, such as infrared, and takes many different pictures to create a composite image that would closely resemble what the human eye can see.
So with all the information that the New Horizons space probe has gleaned from the flyby, where is it now and where is it going? The probe is approximately 33.61 astronomical units from the Sun. An astronomical unit is the distance from the Sun to the Earth, which is roughly 93 million miles. So 33.61 AU multiplied by 93 million is about 3.126 billion miles away from Earth.

To date, the probe, which launched on January 19, 2006, has racked up over 3,500 days in space. Just to reach Saturn, it took about 2.5 years. Since July, the probe is now approximately 62.3 million miles from Pluto.

Now that New Horizons has passed by Pluto, what is its destination? It is still traveling through the Kuiper Belt. Pending NASA approval for extending the mission, its trajectory may be directed to a Kuiper Belt Object which could be anything from planetary bodies to asteroids for further discovery.

Those who would like to learn more can stop by the official website for the space probe, where you can look at real-time data, statistics, and even more information.