Cosmology, Edition: 2ed. by Bondi H.

By Bondi H.

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Discovered in 1930, Pluto ceased to be a planet in August 2006, when 25 YOU ARE HERE it was downgraded to a dwarf planet 4 and given the number 134340, the astronomical equivalent, one can’t help but feel, of being sent to the back of the class. At the time of writing, the entry on Pluto in the online resource Wikipedia has been locked because of vandalism. Presumably, attempts have been made to reclaim its planetary status. Pluto’s status was undermined by the discovery of Eris, another dwarf planet and trans-Neptunian object.

The solar system expanded for the first time in the modern era. For his discovery, Herschel was granted an annual pension of £200 by King George III. Neptune is the eighth planet out from the sun, and the fourth largest by size and third largest by mass. 5 billion kilometres away. We see because the light of the sun shines on things, but we can also ‘see’ through the gravitational influence of one body on another. In the early decades of the nineteenth century it was noticed that the orbit of Uranus is perturbed in such a way that the presence of a massive and hitherto unaccounted body was indicated.

Curiously, the Oort cloud may house objects that were once closer to the sun than the comets to be found in the much nearer Kuiper belt. The Oort cloud holds the light (and now unseen) bodies that the large gas planets threw into more distant orbits. The faintest effects of the combined gravitational field of the sun and the planets just barely holds them in at these great distances. In the last 300 years, 500 long-period comets have been identified. Like Kuiper objects, the bodies that make up the Oort cloud have remained unchanged since the solar system formed.

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