Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Data from New Horizons has allowed scientists to more firmly determine, for the first time, Pluto’s precise size.
Mission scientists have found Pluto to be 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers) in diameter, somewhat larger than many prior estimates. Images acquired with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were used to make this determination. This result confirms what was already suspected: Pluto is larger than all other known solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. “The size of Pluto has been debated since its discovery in 1930. We are excited to finally lay this question to rest,” said mission scientist Bill McKinnon, Washington University, St. Louis.
Pluto’s newly estimated size means that its density is slightly lower than previously thought, and the fraction of ice in its interior is slightly higher. Also, the lowest layer of Pluto’s atmosphere, called the troposphere, is shallower than previously believed.
This means that Pluto is at this moment the largest Kuiper Belt object so far known, bigger than Eris, the Kuiper Belt planet discovered in 2005 that had been thought to be bigger than Pluto and whose existence was used by some to demote Pluto’s status as a planet.
I say, they are both planets, because they are both heavy enough for gravity to have forced them to become spherical.