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Discovery Magazine 9/1/1996

ODDBALL

It has a wild orbit around the Sun. It is smaller than our Moon, but has a moon half its own size. This strange planet is Pluto.

Discovered in 1930, Pluto still holds many secrets because it is so small and so far away from us. One scientist said that trying to see details on Pluto's surface is like trying to read the printing on a golf ball 33 miles away!

Pluto's 248-year journey around the Sun is unusual for two reasons. First, Pluto's orbit has a very narrow, elliptical shape. This means at times it comes closer to the Sun than Neptune. It will not regain its place as the most distant planet in our Solar System until 1999. Second, if we imagined the orbit of each planet as a disk, and looked at the edge of the disks, we would notice that the disks lie very close to each other. But Pluto's disk is different; it is tilted at an extra large angle (17 degrees) away from the Earth's orbit.

Pluto is the smallest planet. It has a diameter of about 1,440 miles. But it has a moon, called Charon (KAIR-en), which is about 790 miles in diameter. Compared to its size, Pluto has the biggest moon of any other planet in our Solar System.

All these unusual facts have led some people to suggest that Pluto is not a "real" planet. Others talk about Pluto as a moon that Neptune rejected.

Poor Pluto. It is so small, and has such a funny orbit, but it looks like a planet in many ways. For instance, it is big enough for gravity to give it a round shape, and it revolves around the Sun.

Do we ever think about people in this way? Do we sometimes think less of people who are different from us? Perhaps if we take a closer look, we will see that they are made in the image of God just like us, and are loved by Him just as much.



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