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Pluto In The Spotlight Again

Just days after surviving attacks on its status as a planet, diminutive Pluto is resuming its traditional spot farthest from the sun.

Pluto was on course to cross the orbit of Neptune at 5:08 a.m. EST Thursday, NASA reported.

Normally the most distant planet from the sun, Pluto has a highly elliptical orbit that occasionally brings it inside the orbit of Neptune.

That last took place on Feb. 7, 1979, and since then Neptune had been the most distant planet.

Now Pluto once again becomes the farthest planet from the sun, where it will remain for another 228 years. It takes Pluto 248 years to make one orbit around the sun.

Fans of the icy celestial body were happy to hear last week that the world's leading astronomical organization, Paris-based International Astronomical Union, reaffirmed Pluto's standing as the smallest planet.

Previous news reports had said Pluto might be demoted to a minor planet, or worse -- a Trans-Neptunian Object.

"No proposal to change the status of Pluto as the ninth planet in the solar system has been made by any division, commission or working group of the IAU responsible for solar system science," said the 80-year-old organization. They are final authority on astronomical matters.

While Pluto will intersect Neptune's orbit, there is no need to worry about a collision. NASA reports the two planets will actually be far apart at the time they cross paths.

Pluto was discovered Feb. 18, 1930, by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Its moon, Charon, was found in 1979.

With a diameter of just 1,430 miles, Pluto is less than half the size of any other planet in the solar system, and only two-thirds as big as Earth's moon.

Reported By Randolph E. Schmid

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