IntroductionThe Latest: Pluto—which is smaller than Earth’s Moon—has a heart-shaped glacier that’s the size of Texas and Oklahoma. This fascinating world has blue skies, spinning moons, mountains as high as the Rockies, and it snows—but the snow is red. These are details we didn't know before NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past in July 2015.

    Pluto is a complex and mysterious world of mountains, valleys, plains and craters. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was long considered our solar system's ninth planet. But after the discovery of similar intriguing worlds deeper in the distant Kuiper Belt, icy Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

    Pluto has five known moons, the largest of which is Charon. Charon is about half the size of Pluto itself, making it the largest satellite relative to the planet it orbits in our solar system. Pluto and Charon are often referred to as a "double planet." Explore Pluto ›

    Ten Things to Know

    Ten Things to Know About Pluto


    Small World

    Pluto is about 1,400 miles (2,380 km) wide. That's about half the width of the United States, or 2/3 the width of Earth's moon.


    Deep Space

    Pluto orbits the Sun about 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion km) away on average, about 40 times as far as Earth, in a region called the Kuiper Belt.


    Slow Journey

    A year on Pluto is 248 Earth years. A day on Pluto lasts 153 hours, or about 6 Earth days.

    Natural Color


    Small in Size, But Not in Importance

    Pluto is officially classified as a dwarf planet.


    Hazy Days

    Pluto has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. The atmosphere has a blue tint and distinct layers of haze.


    Moon Dance

    Pluto has 5 moons. The largest, Charon, is so big that Pluto and Charon orbit each other like a double planet.



    Pluto has no ring system.


    Sole Encounter

    The only spacecraft to visit Pluto is NASA’s New Horizons, which passed close by in July 2015.


    Harsh Habitat

    Pluto’s surface is far too cold, -378 to -396 degrees F (-228 to -238 C), to sustain life as we know it.


    From the Mouths of Babes

    Venetia Burney, just 11 years old at the time, suggested the name Pluto in 1930.

    Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains

    How Pluto Got Its Name

    How Pluto Got its Name

    Pluto is the only world (so far) named by an 11-year-old girl. In 1930, Venetia Burney of Oxford, England, suggested to her grandfather that the new discovery be named for the Roman god of the underworld. He forwarded the name to the Lowell Observatory and it was selected.

    Picture of Venetia Burney
    Picture of Venetia Burney

    Pluto's moons are named for other mythological figures associated with the underworld. Charon is named for the river Styx boatman who ferries souls in the underworld (as well as honoring Sharon, the wife of discoverer James Christy); Nix is named for the mother of Charon, who is also the goddess of darkness and night; Hydra is named for the nine-headed serpent that guards the underworld; Kerberos is named after the three-headed dog of Greek mythology (and called Fluffy in the Harry Potter novels); and Styx is named for the mythological river that separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead.

    Pluto's place in mythology can get a little muddled, so we asked Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, chair of the Department of Classics in Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, to clarify the origins of the name: "Pluto is the name of the Roman god of the Underworld, equivalent to the Greek Hades. However, the Greek name "Plouton" (from which the Romans derived their name "Pluto") was also occasionally used as an alternative name for Hades. But Pluto is definitely the Roman spelling."

    Pop Culture

    Pop Culture

    When Pluto was reclassified in 2006 from a planet to a dwarf planet, there was widespread outrage on behalf of the demoted planet. As the textbooks were updated, the internet spawned memes with Pluto going through a range of emotions, from anger to loneliness. But since the release of New Horizons images showing a very prominent heart-shaped feature on the surface, the sad Pluto meme has given way to a very content, loving Pluto that would like to once again be visited by a spacecraft.

    The Disney cartoon character Pluto, Mickey's faithful dog, made his debut in 1930, the same year Tombaugh discovered the dwarf planet. There is speculation that Walt Disney named the animated dog after the recently discovered planet to capitalize on its popularity, but other accounts are less certain of a direct link. But either way, the joke connecting the two, as told in the 1987 Mel Brooks film Spaceballs remains:

    We were lost. None of us knew where we were. Then Harry starts feeling around on all the trees, and he says, "I got it! We're on Pluto." I say, "Harry, how can ya tell?" And he says, "From the bark, you dummies. From the bark!"



    Pluto and the Developing Landscape of Our Solar System (International Astronomical Union)

    NASA Planetary Photojournal - Pluto

    Solar System News