Pluto steps out of the shadows!

An artist’s impression of New Horizons flying past Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben
New Horizons - Pluton, Charon
  • New Horizons - Pluton, Charon
  • Pluto, Charon and the Sun
Pluto steps out of the shadows!

The ex-ninth planet of the solar system is in the news again these days! Now classified as a dwarf planet, Pluto is about to receive a visit from the New Horizons probe. Not since its discovery in 1930 has it been the subject of so much scrutiny.

Let’s go back to the beginning, 85 years ago: At Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, northern Arizona, a young astronomer by the name of Clyde Tombaugh was busy, methodically photographing the sky beyond Neptune in search of “Planet X.” In the winter of 1930 he finally found his needle in a haystack: comparing successive photos of the same region of sky taken the previous January, he found a tiny point of light, lost among tens of thousands of stars, that had changed position.

Pluto, an object of controversy

Ever since its discovery, this tiny distant object has raised controversy — beginning with the choice of its name, Pluto. Its small size and eccentric orbit, unlike the other planets in the solar system, also caused some doubt about its status as a real planet.

Nowadays we know Pluto as the most famous of the Kuiper belt objects, small icy worlds that occupy a vast region beyond Neptune. They are of great interest in understanding how our solar system formed… Pluto has attracted so much attention, it’s not surprising that we finally decided to go and take a closer look!

Spotlight on Pluto

After a nine-and-a-half year journey, New Horizons will reach its goal and fly past Pluto on July 14, 2015. Over the following weeks and months, the probe will send back thousands of images taken and stored during the critical 16-hour flyby period. Pluto will no longer be a tiny point of light in the sky, but rather a complete world unto itself.

As pictures of Pluto’s surface and moons become available, the most spectacular ones will be presented, with live commentary, in a new immersive show, Pluto: Chronicles of an Ex-Planet, starting at the Planétarium on July 7, 2015.

A complex production

Over thirty people contributed to bringing the amazing story of Pluto to life — scriptwriters, filmmakers, computer graphics artists, audio specialists, musicians, and so on — making this the most ambitious and complex original production ever undertaken by the staff of the Planétarium.

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