Why Pluto Matters: A Short History of a Small (Non-)Planet

TIME

When it was first discovered, Pluto was the coolest planet in the solar system. Before it was even named, TIME surmised that “the New Planet,” 50 times farther from the sun than Earth, “gets so little heat from the sun that most substances of Earth would be frozen solid or into thick jellies.”

The astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh, then a 24-year-old research assistant at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., was the first to find photographic evidence of a ninth planet on this day, Feb. 18, 85 years ago.

His discovery launched a worldwide scramble to name the frozen, farthest-away planet. Since the astronomer Percival Lowell had predicted its presence 15 years earlier, per TIME, and even calculated its approximate position based on the irregularity of Neptune’s orbit, the team at Lowell Observatory considered his widow’s suggestion of “Percival,” but found it not quite planetary enough. The director of the…

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