Pluto's heart named 'Tombaugh Regio' in celebration of dwarf planet's discovery

The shape of the heart was only discovered in recent weeks, when New Horizons sent back pictures of it in unprecedented details

Andrew Griffin
Friday 17 July 2015 07:31 BST
The 3 billion miles journey to Pluto began nine and a half years ago
The 3 billion miles journey to Pluto began nine and a half years ago

Nasa has named the heart-shaped region of Pluto in celebration of the dwarf planet’s pioneering discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.

The area will now be informally known as “Tombaugh Regio” — regio being latin for region — Nasa announced during its first press conference following the historic Pluto flyby. The heart-shaped bit of Pluto has become an iconic symbol of the planet, since it was first seen in pictures sent back by the New Horizons craft.

The first detailed pictures sent back of the planet came in recent weeks, and finally settled the exact shape of the bright patch on its surface, as well as showing the surprising Mars-like reddish hue. Scientists have long known about the existence of the patch — and seen that it has been getting gradually less bright — but didn’t have detailed enough pictures to be able to say what shape it was.

Pluto was identified in 1930 by US astronomer Clyde Tombaugh using a 13in photographic telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tombaugh began his study of space in the early 20th century, building his own telescopes after a hailstorm ruined his family’s crops and he was unable to go to university.

Some of his ashes are being carried to the world he discovered on New Horizons. His children have been actively involved in the mission, and were present at the event yesterday when Nasa announced the region’s new informal name.

It wasn’t the only place to be given a new name during the conference. Scientists announced that they had taken to calling a large dark patch on Charon, Pluto’s moon, “Mordor” — after the dark and evil region in the Lord of the Rings.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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