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February 4, 2010

NASA: Pluto is 'not simply a ball of ice and rock'

Posted: 03:19 PM ET

NASA released new photos today of everyone's favorite former planet: Pluto.

The space agency says the photos, which were taken in the early 2000s by the Hubble Space Telescope, are the "most detailed and dramatic images ever taken of the distant dwarf planet."

"The Hubble pictures confirm Pluto is a dynamic world that undergoes dramatic atmospheric changes not simply a ball of ice and rock," NASA says in a news release.

But the new glamour shots won't be enough to get Pluto registered again as a planet.

The pictures come just as Pluto is heading into a new phase of its 248-year orbit around the sun, NASA says:

Pluto is unlike Earth, where the planet's tilt alone drives seasons. Pluto's seasons are asymmetric because of its elliptical orbit. Spring transitions to polar summer quickly in the northern hemisphere, because Pluto is moving faster along its orbit when it is closer to the Sun. says new colors and features of Pluto came to light in the photos:

The surface appears reddish, yellowish, grayish in places, with a mysterious bright spot that is particularly puzzling to scientists.

Some of the colors revealed in the new pictures of Pluto are thought to result from ultraviolet radiation from the sun interacting with methane in the tenuous atmosphere of the dwarf planet. The bright spot apparent near the equator has been found in other observations to be unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost.

Pluto lost its status as our solar system's ninth planet in 2006 when an international group of scientists decided that it was too small and too distant to be considered a member of the Earth's solar-system family.

More from the National Academies:

Pluto is considerably smaller and more distant than the other planets in our solar system. Two-thirds the size of Earth's moon, Pluto's classification as a planet came under scrutiny when many objects of similar size and distance were discovered in the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s.

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Filed under: NASA • Space

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Kevin   February 5th, 2010 4:03 pm ET

I almost forgot.... There are numerous asteroids that cross Earths orbit. Our planet has not 'cleared' it's orbital path completely. So is Earth a planet just because we live on it? Maybe after it does clear a few of these asteroids we won't have to have this debate any longer.

Tyler   February 5th, 2010 4:27 pm ET

Don't worry Pluto.... I'm not a planet either

B'Boy705   February 5th, 2010 5:01 pm ET

For ESTELLA M. DAVIS please take your medication and stop trying to change the world by shouting at it! Oh and by the way THERE IS NO GOD! Sorry to disappoint YOU!!!

For the rest of you planet huggers... chill like little Pluto! By the time Pluto figures out it's not a planet human might be extinct!

For NASA, great photos! Keep them coming!

Panda   February 5th, 2010 5:09 pm ET

I would like to put pluto on the ring that I am planning on giving it to my gf.

Richard in Anaheim   February 5th, 2010 5:58 pm ET

If those complaining that we should have had this photo long before Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet had also read the longer article on National Geographic's web site, they would have learned that it took 4 years and 20 computers to combine 384 Hubble photographs to get 3 true color images of Pluto. So quite trying to turn it into a conspiracy.

CHAD   February 5th, 2010 8:36 pm ET

Why can't Pluto talk, yet Goofy can?

Brent   February 5th, 2010 11:26 pm ET

What happened pluto, I mean we used to be cool.

robbo   February 6th, 2010 12:52 am ET

Pluto is over 65 years old and it sort of lags behind compared to its other planets with regard to orbitting the Sun. Eventually the Democrats will create a program for it and all will be well.

People_Know_Me   February 6th, 2010 12:53 am ET

Why do people care so much if it's a planet or not? Seriously, get a life. Also, for those that think Pluto looks so "round" in the photos, it's because the pics have been cropped/cut to make it round, otherwise its edges would be just as blurry as the rest of the pic. How can you "experts" who look for any reason to make Pluto a planet think that they have pictures of a perfectly round object with a blurry-assed surface. Wow...

helenecha   February 6th, 2010 3:05 am ET

Make sure, I will keep my one of the eyes on learning from the planet's tilt alone drives seasons at least. ...

Matt   February 6th, 2010 9:43 am ET

Graham- Clyde Tambaugh discovered pluto, not whatever quackpot astronomer you think did. Even wikipedia, though i shudder to use it, knows that. Also, for all of you complainers- Scientists say that pluto is not a planet so it is not. They are the experts in the field who have studied this for god only knows how many years. Why don't you give them a little respect and credibility? For god shake, they probably have been doing this longer and have more education than some of the medical doctors you go to, yet you trust them blindly...

Chris   February 6th, 2010 11:40 am ET

The issue was that if pluto met the requirements to be deemed a planetary body of our solar system so would many other objects in our solar system. It was better to redefine a planet and lose one, than redefine them and gain many.

my goodness   February 6th, 2010 12:18 pm ET

If it revolves our sun it's part of our solar system. Bring it back in.

chemphys   February 6th, 2010 12:46 pm ET

It also has irregular orbit, it is not orbiting in the same plane with the other planets

skeetz   February 6th, 2010 1:17 pm ET

When I was a kid struggling to remember the order of the planets, a wise old lady said "Mary's violet eyes makes John stay up nights period."

Pluto isnt going away and I will always end my sentences with a period.

ragehavoc   February 6th, 2010 1:56 pm ET

Mina the planet was taken out because they are slowly creating a system for ALL of the universe not just our little ricky dinky system, much more classification will happen throughout earths history as we learn in more detail what each type of planet consists of and its usefullness. Not long ago these planets where though of as gods so times change, everything changes.

Why?   February 6th, 2010 2:42 pm ET

Why do we spend money on stupid trivial things like deciding if Pluto is a planet or not????? Who cares, it doesn't affect my life or anyone elses other then the guys who get paid to decide if it is a planet or not.......I am not from there and I don't know anyone who is. Do you plan on making your next vacation stop there? I doubt it, SO WHO CARES!!!!!!!!!!!

Corey   February 6th, 2010 2:49 pm ET

Pluto should be a planet.

amanda   February 6th, 2010 3:01 pm ET

Pluto should deffiantly still be a planet.
There is no reason it shouldn't be counted as a planet.
Just because it is small and distance doesn't mean it's not a planet.
Plus, what's the Solar System with out pluto?
I miss pluto !

Missing my Pluto   February 6th, 2010 3:02 pm ET

Dear Pluto,

Please come back to me baby...I can change I swear, I really can. If you come back to being part of my solar system I will be a new man. I promise.

aaron   February 6th, 2010 4:18 pm ET

Asteroids don't have atmospheres, planets do. Who cares if Pluto is so far away, or if its orbit is different than the rest of the planets. It has the characteristics of a planet, so it's a planet. Bring it back.

Rick   February 6th, 2010 5:35 pm ET

Meh, To all the folks claiming Pluto was removed from our solar system

Not possible we'd have to make it leave it's orbit to say it's not part of our Solar System it still orbits sol so it's still in system.

THough if i remember correctly it does leave in an awkward orbit for some time before coming back into it's standard eliptical orbit. not sure about that though

Furthermore it's still a 'planet' just a dwarf planet meaning it's smaller than the others and it doesn't meet the criteria to be consider a full Planet. It hasn't been crossed of the star charts as non-essential rubble and it isn't being treated like an asteroid or something other than a Large, though not sufficient enough in mass to be a planet, Spherical object in a Set orbit around a Star with a clear orbital path it's just a dwarf meaning it's a tiny planet.

there are still 9 Spherical masses in our system one just happens to be smaller than the other 8 and is classified to reflect that. nothing major nothing worth complaining over and it's better we have a system for categorization than not having one at all.

Todd   February 6th, 2010 7:16 pm ET

If it orbits the same sun as us, then it is part of our solar system – that can't be denied by anyone who has any intelligence. Is it possible that Pluto has a lot more going on that somebody wants to admit? I would love to see some close-ups of the planet. Too bad our most powerful telescopes can only see billions of light-years away, and not something as relatively close as Pluto. Oh, and that in itself is kind of weird I think.

Shafique Uddin   February 6th, 2010 8:36 pm ET

Never mind, as far as Pluto having all the features of a planet, no matter how far or how small it is, must be considered as a planet. And that's it!

TKR   February 6th, 2010 8:53 pm ET

A- Pluto is still a planet – just look at it. B- It's just not a major (one of the Big Eight) planet – it's too small, doesn't clear it's orbit, etc. C- Regardless, it's fascinating. Looking forward to the New Horizons mission flyby in 2015

Plutonian   February 6th, 2010 11:07 pm ET

We Plutonians are gonna sue NASA!!!!

Jmg493   February 6th, 2010 11:14 pm ET

Size doesn't matter! We found you Pluto despite your planetary challenge the rest of the planets want you back... so what do you say?

mkb   February 7th, 2010 12:08 am ET

if pluto is aplanet or not, it does not make a difference.the old definition wasn't fitting well into even our solar system,so the astronomers wanted a better definition of a planet and they found one. correct me if iam wrong but astronomy involves and needs a lot of classifications to distinguish one object from the other.forgive me but if we do not have very concrete technical arguements we should accept it.and please let me know if you have such is very clear,from the new defn that pluto is not a only satisfies the round part(besides i dont even think it is round).

TexasPatriot   February 7th, 2010 9:49 am ET

Why is it the liberals are up in arms over Pluto and of the end of space exploration in general, when it's THEIR Redistributor-in-Chief, who is the one who is canceling all future exploration projects. There will be no grand moon colonies, no great starships built - because Barack Obama feels it's more important to pass along taxpayer money to union cronies and to buy votes with populist feel-good policies through redistributive programs. I would rather spend $15 Billion on a series of rockets, then on wasteful spending on programs whose usefulness are of dubious value.

JJ   February 7th, 2010 11:28 am ET

They should send a new probe there, with a hi-def video cam. It should arrive in 2070. I will be on the edge of my seat until then.

Cable   February 7th, 2010 12:30 pm ET

@Jerry, maybe you'll check back and see it...Hubble can't see Pluto for the same reason you really can't see someone at the end of your driveway with 100 power's actually too CLOSE to get a good focus on.

Anil Kumar   February 7th, 2010 4:06 pm ET

Please don't play any more games with Pluto. It can't take it any more.

Paul   February 7th, 2010 5:14 pm ET

Would you rather remember 8 planets or 12? That is why Pluto is no longer considered a "Planet".

Gabe from Monaca   February 7th, 2010 5:30 pm ET

Humans seem to have a driving need to box things neatly into categories in an effort to make things simple to understand. But there is danger there because, in doing so, they tend to limit their horizons when dealing with new concepts and new discoveries.
In the case of the cosmos, for example, observers have tried to classify black holes according to size and relative location, i.e. "super massive black holes," as well as newly discovered planets in other solar systems, etc. As we continue to make these discoveries and try to classify these strange bodies in the Universe, the wonder of the Universe itself may be overlooked.
The diversity of all these comments from people from many walks of life give a hint of how impossible it may be to box up a mere pebble like Pluto in our solar system, let alone other bodies in the Universe.
Perhaps we have to change our pattern of thought and resist the urge to classify everything in our quest to understand creation.

Michael   February 7th, 2010 5:42 pm ET

I think Pluto is sad.

Labadia   February 7th, 2010 9:02 pm ET

Pluto is part of our solar sistems , fher those smart ones that didnt know scientis put back in

Cody   February 7th, 2010 11:06 pm ET

If Pluto is smaller than the Earth's moon then we cannot obviously call it a "planet". Once more research i done into approximate sizes of "planets" outside of our solar system, only then can we determine what constitutes a minimum for Planetary size.

Abhishek Kylasa   February 8th, 2010 1:04 am ET

You're wrong. Objects bigger than Pluto were discovered. It was either 10 planets or eight. Scientists didn't want too many planets, so they made a new definition for planet that took away Pluto's special status. The object that was bigger than Pluto is Eris. It has one moon, Dysnomia. It was discovered more than five years ago and is 3x farther away from the Sun than Pluto is. There are also a lot of other Kuiper Belt objects that are about one-third of Pluto's size. If Pluto was renamed a planet, then Eris would have to be recognized as one, and possibly the other smaller Kuiper Belt objects. Also, the revised planet definition said that planets are spherical (Pluto passes), planets orbit around the Sun and stuff, and that smaller planets don't cross the orbits of larger planets.

Anon   February 8th, 2010 1:56 am ET

The yellow part definitly look like carbon monoxide and maybe the black parts are the parts that got burnt from begin too close to the sun. Also didnt pluto get excluded from our solar system not because it was too distant and too small, but because it was part of another solar system? or is that just some stupid theory that i heard.

troels   February 8th, 2010 3:02 am ET

Geeez let the nerds call it a midget planet if they want to, i'd say that it is one of the decisions made which makes the least difference to any of us here on earth.

I am a bit worried about the pictures though, they sure look "makeover'ed" with that perfect round shape, kinda fake actually (not trying to start a conspiracy theory here).

Michael   February 8th, 2010 4:29 am ET

IAU members were debating on what a planet it but couldnt all agree so at the end of thier 2 week meeting most of the 9000 members went home. 424 Members that were against pluto being a planet stayed and had a vote on the last day on THEIR definition. Untill the full IAU body votes on this, this is nothing more then a bunch of nonsense and should be ignored by the civilized world as bad science.

Quick question: If the EARTH was in the same orbit as pluto would it have cleared it's path? And if the answer is no then would the Earth be conscidered a Dwarf planet?

James   February 8th, 2010 4:44 am ET

Pluto = Planet. Period.

namlevram   February 8th, 2010 6:16 am ET

Can anyone else see a skull in that image?

XP   February 8th, 2010 7:16 am ET

It's kind of funny to see all these sentimental folks talk about redesignating Pluto as a proper planet and amateurs commenting about scientists not knowing how to do their job. Just want to point out two things in response to some of these comments:

1. Get over it. Pluto is designated a "dwarf planet" because it's small not because some some scientists had some sort of vendetta. No one put out a hit on Pluto. Pluto is small, plain and simple. As we uncover more and more planets in and out of our solar system classifying them helps scientists better understand these celestial bodies.

2. Pluto is still in the solar system. It didn't just up and leave because it was mad it was redesignated a dwarf planet. Its still there!

No matter what Pluto is designated, called, whatever, it will still inspire our imaginations and hopefully continue to inspire the human race to explore outer space. So, get with the program, stop being sentimental, and see what you can do to get involved to better our understanding of what lies beyond our solar backyard!

David Kelly   February 8th, 2010 7:22 am ET

"Pluto lost its status as our solar system's ninth planet in 2006 when an international group of scientists decided that it was too small and too distant to be considered a member of the Earth's solar-system family."

Really? How can CNN be so stupid?

And no, it's not a planet and I was quite glad when it was demoted but I do wonder about the whole clearing a path thing. We DO have that giant rock in the sky called Luna that keeps getting in front of us. Are we not on a planet then?

U-Kiss   February 8th, 2010 7:54 am ET

That's a beautiful picture.

i'm 1of the U-Kiss member that sang man man ha ni.

Franko   February 8th, 2010 11:02 am ET

Due to gravitational lapse, very deep inside, Pluto is very warm.
Run a heat engine, to tap the difference, to power colonization.

mkb   February 8th, 2010 11:45 am ET

forget about pluto.people seem to be forgetting that we do not know majority of the things going on in the universe that is more than enough to leave us smacking our heads for the rest of our lives.the pluto "issue" is just ....trivial.

Thanh   February 8th, 2010 1:03 pm ET

What on earth is wrong with some of you guys. Why do you insist on being so superfluous on why Pluto is not a planet. Lets put up each arguement and discuss each point.

Clearing of orbit: a lot of people seem to argue that Earth have not clear it's orbit because asteroid occasionally crosses it's path. Every few object in the universe completely "cleared" it's orbit. In this case they are refering to other object that shares it's orbit, or object that orbits so closely to it that it could disturb it's orbit.

Orbit the sun: I am actually on the other side on this arguement. Although it does technically orbit Charon at the same time Charon orbits it. It's orbit around the sun is much more relevent. If it is a planet, this cause should make it a "twin planet." Think about it guys, if Jupiter and Saturn orbit each other, while they both orbit the sun, does that not make them a "twin planet" of some kind. That why I think this arguement doesn't really count.

elliptical Orbit: I am also with the other side on this one. As long as it orbit the sun, I don't really see why it have to be a near circle. We found many exoplanet on other star, some of which have pretty "freaky" orbit. Yet they are still classify as exoplanet.

There are many other "human", and sedimental point that was made that I am going to ignore.

I believe the true reason on why Pluto was demoted was this: We found many transneptunian object (over 1000 now). With almost 200 of them having a sufficient mass to be round, and having their orbit defined. Now here's the problems: these objects have characteristic very similar to Pluto, so it either we call them all planets or demote Pluto. And so the decision was made to demote Pluto.

This should be seen as a victory for science, not a Pluto bashing fest for those that "hate" Pluto. In science, we find evidences to support our assumption and theory, and when those evidiences points us to a different direction, we should ignore it, we have to follow it. So instead of making our solar system containing hundreds of planets, they IAU decided to categorize them into two category: planets and dwaft planets.

We should stop arguing over this matter and stay tune to what New Horizon can tell us about Pluto when it arrives in 2015. Pluto is there and it will be there long after we a gone. The fact that we call it a dwaft planet doesn't change it's scientific significant.

Again, sorry for my grammar.

Gaurav   February 8th, 2010 4:45 pm ET

Is there anything in any of the meteor belts which is bigger than pluto?

Arv   February 8th, 2010 11:45 pm ET

What a blow to our education system. For years teachers, and even college professors, have been telling us that there were 9 planets, and that the 9th one was Pluto. Now we find that all those educators were wrong, and were propagating their error to millions of impressionable little kids, and even to some future scientists and government officials.

Matt   April 21st, 2010 9:35 pm ET

To People Know Me: Telling people to get a life just because they have a hobby and may have posted shows that you have no life at all. If using the internet makes you a 17 year old sun-deprived basement dwelling virgin, then you must be one too.

To everyone else: Yes, Pluto is a planet. People keep saying that it doesn't clear it's orbit, but that has to do with the distance from the sun. It is not a Kuiper Belt Object, however. People keep comparing it to a tiny rock saying that you need to draw a line. Why draw it just to exclude Pluto? The idea of comparing a spherical object with its own atmosphere that has yet to get sucked into Neptune (if it was this bit of debris you said it would, Neptune would have sucked in this "asteroid") to space debris that is not spherical, would easily get sucked into another planet's atmosphere, or have its orbit influenced by other objects is foolish. Pluto's orbit, as odd as it is, is independant of anything else except the sun. But to those who ask why exclude Eris and Ceres, who says they'll be excluded? Maybe say we have 11 planets? But some of the objects called "drawf planets" that are nothing like Pluto and Eris need to stay "drawf planets" while Pluto, Eris, and Ceres can be full fledged planets. Haumea and Makemake just aren't planets, but I have no problem with having 11 planets in the solar system.

Matt   April 21st, 2010 9:37 pm ET

PS: Who says we need hundreds of planets? Let's just categorize those things the way we have for a long time, planetoids. Or as they're now called, smaller solar system bodies.

THE GUY WHO SPEAKS THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1   May 7th, 2010 4:29 pm ET


Rachel   May 22nd, 2010 1:32 pm ET

Pluto will always be a planet in my mind. Just because it's small doesn't mean we should say it's not part of our solar system. Pluto has always been my favorite PLANET and always will be my favorite PLANET!!!!

Michael   May 25th, 2010 12:03 am ET

Not to change the topic but I have a thery that maybe a long time ago Pluto may have been one of the inner planets. Maybe plutos axsis was diffrent than the other planets and the sun loss the gravitational pull between Pluto and Pluto just went along the solar system and about my estimate is over 900 billions years pluto wondered of were Neptune is now and Neptune kept its gravitational pull to Pluto while Pluto now goes in orbit around the sun again by planets that scientist dont know exist..

Wealthy» Blog Archive » pluto planet photo   June 7th, 2011 8:31 am ET

[...] NASA: Pluto is 'not simply a ball of ice and rock' – SciTechBlog ... Feb 4, 2010 ... Pluto is a planet! The pictures are really fantastic. I can't wait to see what we get in 2015 when ... [...]

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i always thought that it was but in my science test miss is trying to say that it is.

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