'Oh, boy! Okay, Pluto! Alright? Come on, let's go.'
Mickey Mouse in Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952)
I have yet to observe Pluto myself. In fact I have yet to try. All that an amateur like myself can hope to achieve is to find Pluto as a tiny fourteenth-magnitude star and track his movement against the background stars, and time any rare chance occultation of a star by Pluto. Measuring changes in brightness requires photoelectric equipment, and measuring changes in brightness due to transits and occultations of Pluto by Pluto I (Charon) will not be possible until the orbit of Pluto and Pluto I about each other is facing edge-on to Terra, which last occurred in 1985 and won't occur again until 2109! And then measuring Pluto's diurnal rotational changes in brightness requires a small professional observatory telescope of at least 17½" aperture, according to Fred Price in The Planet Observer's Handbook (1994). It is theoretically possible to find Pluto with a 6" telescope such as my refractor, but then only under dark sky conditions, and I am just outside Coventry City Centre, and at culmination Pluto is very low over the horizon behind a wall. In fact without a high platform, Pluto is unobservable to me until the mid-2060s! Possibly I'll move house, or obtain a mount for my mothballed 11¾" reflector, or make an opportunity to observe from a dark sky site. Or something. Probably. One of these days, perhaps even in time for NASA's New Horizons probe fly-by of the Plutonian System in 2015.
In the meantime, in spite of what some professional astronomers may say, any child of six knows that Pluto is a remote small icy planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. In fact Pluto is a true binary planet system which orbits a centre of gravity with its still smaller companion Charon, which ought to be called Proserpina, and which is also a planet. In fact all of the newly-discovered worlds beyond Pluto are planets. The ridiculous indulgent names which have been inflicted on most of these planets only prevent people from taking them seriously as other worlds, but in time they will surely be treated with more respect. Take a look at these orbital diagrams which I put together; diagrams like these should have been put together as a matter of course, but you won't find diagrams like these elsewhere:
First, here is a table of selected planetary data I drew up including all of the newly-discovered worlds, with Terra and Pluto included for comparison:
* * *
This diagram shows the orbits of the new worlds from above:
* * *
This diagram shows the orbits of the new worlds from the side, but including all of the orbit of Sedna:
* * *
And this diagram shows the orbit of Sedna to scale next to the nearest stars. The distance doesn't seem quite so incomprehensibly vast now, does it. And who's been eating my porridge:
Don't worry; I sent copies of these diagrams to the General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union in Paris. With a selected list of Roman deities to name planets after. So now everything will be just fine. My favourite choice for the name of a really remote planet, the last one before Proxima perhaps, or for the name of the first starship, would have to be Abeona, the Roman goddess who watches over children leaving home for the last time...
It is now safe to return to the index page.