Pluto is once again in the press, astronomers having recently discovered a fifth moon about the tiny, icy world. -And, again, Pluto’s official designation as a “dwarf planet” is coming under fire.
However, Pluto’s pain really hearkens back to a much older story – one of an unsung planet that stood proudly in the rightful lineup alongside Earth, Venus, Mars, and the rest of the household-name kin of the Solar System for nearly a half-century, yet today nearly no one knows its name:
This is the oft-overlooked story of the scrappy planet Ceres [planet symbol:], which ultimately becomes the story of Pluto.
A Persistent Pattern
The story begins in the late 1700s, when the maturing discipline of astronomy discovered what was believed to be a pattern in the orbital semi-major axes (read: distances between) the planets. The Cliff’s Notes version of the orbital mechanics here is that there appeared to be a gap between Mars and Jupiter where another planet should have been.
Thus at the turn of the 19th Century began a concerted effort to find this missing world, bringing to bear a contingent of respected astronomers and an arsenal of the most advanced telescopes the science of the ...