Now, for the telescopic challenge of a lifetime; a chance to spot the elusive and controversial Pluto. Even experienced amateur astronomers have yet to accomplish this feat, and I’ve only done it once with the 14″ Schmitt-Cassegrain at the Flandreau Observatory. At 14th magnitude, it may be tough to spot, but even with a six inch aperture, it should be possible. I intend to try it this week with my homemade 5-inch, possibly a record for Pluto! Also, assure you have pristine dark skies, and a good Finder Chart.
Pluto does change position from night to night, but very… slowly… its only recently moved from Ophiuchus, were it was discovered in 1930, to the constellation Sagittarius! Pluto transits at about 11pm local time at an altitude of 25 degrees as seen from mid northern latitudes. For extra fun, its also nearing the galactic plane which is very star rich i.e. it’ll be very difficult to identify. Still, spotting it puts you in a very select club of visual atheletes! Good luck and dark skies!
This week’s astro-word of the week is the newly minted word Plutoid. Last months’ IAU 0804 circular (yes, I know it by heart now!) Is the latest chapter in the Pluto is a: planet; pluton; dwarf planet; plutoid saga. A Plutoid is defined as an object beyond the orbit of Neptune that is large enough to be defineably round, yet does not clear its orbit. Right now, Pluto and Eris, and perhaps Quaoar, Makemake, and Sedna fit the bill. Who knows what other Plutoids may lurk in the depths? Don’t forget, Eris at aphelion is almost twice as far from the sun as Pluto is; there is a whole lot more area in the Kuiper Belt than the rest of the solar system!