What were you doing 9 years ago? Chances are if you work for NASA you were anxiously watching the New Horizons probe lift off.
This week those anxieties came to a climax, and were spectacularly converted into joy and celebration as the little probe, bristling with instruments, flew by the dwarf planet Pluto, the smallest planet in our solar system, and never seen up close before.
For all astronomy buffs this has been an exciting few days, and over the next few weeks we'll almost certainly see many more fascinating glimpses of his strange, distant world, and learn more about this planet which is smaller than our own moon, where each day lasts nearly an Earth week, and a year is 250 times as long as ours. Which means that you’d be 250 times younger than you are right now. But you'd also be dead, because the temperature on Pluto is a less-than-toasty -229°C, which quite a bit colder than the freezing point of air.
For all you space buffs and budding scientists, here are some cool birthday cakes we think you'll love, and a nine other fascinating facts about the ninth member of our solar system.
- Pluto was named by an eleven-year-old girl from Oxford, named Venetia Burney (whose grandfather was friends with an astronomy professor at Oxford University).
- Although smaller than our own moon, Pluto has an extraordinarily thick atmosphere, which makes it larger than earth.
- Disney's Pluto character was named after the planet, as he was created in the same year that Pluto was discovered, 1930.
- Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006, but not because of its size. It’s because it's actually just one of many large objects orbiting the sun at that distance, called the Kuiper Belt. Pluto just happens to be the brightest object. This also means that New Horizons may discover more dwarf planets as it continues on its journey.
- Pluto has five moons, called Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.
- Pluto isn’t always the farthest planet from the sun. It has an, odd shaped orbit, which means sometimes it is closer to the sun than Neptune.
- Pluto has about three times more water than Earth, but it’s all frozen.
- Pluto weighs 13,050,000,000,000 billion kilograms, which is even more than Kim Kardashian's rear end.
- The largest of Pluto's moons, called Charon, has a crater that is longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon.
We hope you enjoyed these fun facts, and if you like our space-age astronomy birthday cake, you can click on it below.