August 24, 2006 was a sad day for Pluto. Formerly known as a planet, Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet that day. August 24 is now recognized as Pluto Demoted Day. Use the day as an opportunity to learn about Pluto, its new status and its connection to central Illinois.
Although Pluto is no longer a planet, there are still many interesting facts to learn about it. Pluto was discovered in 1930. Until 2006, it was classified as the ninth planet in our solar system. Pluto cannot be seen without the use of a telescope, and not much is known about what it is like. In 2005, NASA sent New Horizons, an unmanned spacecraft, to Pluto, but it will not approach Pluto until 2015. The dwarf planet has a tilted orbit, and at times in its orbit, it is closer to the sun than Neptune and Uranus. It takes Pluto 249 years to make one trip around the sun.
These days, Pluto is regarded as a dwarf planet. To qualify as a dwarf planet, an object must be fairly round and orbit the sun. Unlike a planet, a dwarf planet has not cleared the area around its orbital path. Also, it is not a satellite, also known as a moon. The decision that cost Pluto its planetary status also outlined three categories of solar system objects: planets, dwarf planets and small solar system bodies.
Although Pluto is no longer considered a planet, its discovery was still significant, and Illinoisans have a connection to that discovery. Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto, was born and raised in Streator, Ill. in the early 1900s. He did not find Pluto until 1930, long after he'd left the area, but it was in Illinois that he first became interested in astronomy. In an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Tombaugh explained that he became quite interested in geography during his elementary school years in Streator, and that interest led him to wonder what the geography of other planets was like. In addition, his uncle who lived nearby had a telescope, and with that telescope, young Clyde was able to observe Saturn's rings, the moon's craters and the moons of Jupiter. Illinois residents can appreciate that Tombaugh's time in Illinois had an influence on the discovery of Pluto.
On August 24, take a minute to remember Pluto, even if it is just a dwarf planet. And while you're at it, remind your children that the things they learn in their childhood have the power to take them awfully far in life. If you pursue your interests and gain as much knowledge as you can, you never know what amazing things you might discover.
Do you still think of Pluto as a planet?