Solar eclipses on Pluto

Eclipses of the Sun on Pluto are caused when one of its three natural satellites – Charon, Nix and Hydrapasses in front of the Sun, blocking its light.

An eclipse can occur only when one of the satellites' orbital nodes, the points where their orbits cross Pluto's ecliptic, is lined up with the apparent position of the Sun as seen from Pluto. Since all three of its satellites orbit in the same plane, the times at which this is possible are the same for all three. There are only two points in Pluto's orbit where this can happen.

Charon typically presents an angular diameter of between 3 and 4 degrees of arc as seen from the surface of Pluto. The Sun appears much smaller, only 40 arcseconds to 1 arcminute. This means that during solar eclipses by Charon, a large proportion of Pluto's surface can experience a total eclipse.

There are large uncertainties in the diameters of Nix and Hydra, Pluto's two smaller moons, and as a result their apparent diameters (as seen from Pluto) are also uncertain. However, it is known that Nix's angular diameter is 3-9 minutes, while Hydra's is 2-7 minutes. These are much larger than the Sun's angular diameter, so total solar eclipses are possible with these moons.

The period when eclipses were observed on Pluto was between February 1985 and October 1990.cite book
author=Lucy-Ann Adams McFadden
coauthors=Paul Robert Weissman; Torrence V Johnson
title=Encyclopedia of the Solar System
publisher=Academic Press
id=ISBN 0120885891
] As seen from Earth, Charon also transited Pluto every orbit during this period. By measuring the change in brightness during these transit events, astronomers were able to measure the radius of both Pluto and Charon. Nowadays, telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope have high enough resolution that the radius can be measured directly.

The next period of time when solar eclipses can occur on Pluto will begin October 2103, peak in 2110, and end January 2117. During this period, solar eclipses will occur at some point on Pluto every orbit of Charon. The maximum duration of any solar eclipse by Charon as seen from Pluto during this period is about 90 minutes. [cite web
date = 1987-Dec-12 11:28 UT
title = Start of Eclipse
publisher = [ JPL Solar System Simulator]
url =
accessdate = 2008-06-05
[ (Pluto as seen from the Sun during mid-eclipse)]
] [cite web
date = 1987-Dec-12 12:57 UT
title = End of Eclipse
publisher = JPL Solar System Simulator
url =
accessdate = 2008-06-05


External links

* [ Pluto eclipsing the Sun through Jupiter as seen from Charon] (1987-Dec-22)

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