5 June 2014

Pluto (minor-planet designation 134340 Pluto) is the largest object in the Kuiper belt, and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun. It is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet, after Eris. Like other Kuiper-belt objects, Pluto is composed primarily of rock and ice and is relatively small, approximately one-sixth the mass of the Moon and one-third its volume. It has an eccentric and highly inclined orbit that takes it from 30 to 49 AU (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. This causes Pluto to periodically come closer to the Sun than Neptune, but an orbital resonance with Neptune prevents the bodies from colliding. In 2014 it was 32.6 AU from the Sun.

Discovered in 1930, Pluto was originally classified as the ninth planet from the Sun. Its status as a major planet fell into question following further study of it and the outer Solar System over the ensuing 75 years. Starting in 1977 with the discovery of the minor planet 2060 Chiron, numerous icy objects similar to Pluto with eccentric orbits were found. The most notable of these was the scattered disc object Eris, discovered in 2005, which is 27% more massive than Pluto. The understanding that Pluto is only one of several large icy bodies in the outer Solar System prompted the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define formally in 2006 what it means to be a “planet”. This definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a member of the new “dwarf planet” category (and specifically as a plutoid). Astronomers who oppose this decision hold that Pluto should have remained classified as a planet, and that other dwarf planets and even moons should be added to the roster of planets along with Pluto.