How to go off the beaten path on our solar system’s ex-planet.
When you’re traveling around the solar system, sometimes it’s hard to get beyond the clichés: Sea of Tranquility, rings of Saturn, the Great Red Spot. Yawn. And at first glance, you might think the same about Pluto. You can barely see its polar ice cap for the forest of selfie sticks, and waiting in line to ride the nitrogen stream into the atmosphere can make the trip from earth feel like the drive to your local grocery store. But beyond the major sites, there’s a dwarf planet waiting to be discovered.
With a 1,472-mile diameter, all it takes is a small step off the beaten path to find something new to explore. But watch your step, that surface is icy! Of course, most travelers come to Pluto for the views. With at least five moons, there’s always something worth looking up for. Couples will want to check out the “heart shape,” 1,200 miles of pure romance on the ex-planet’s surface. “It’s pretty much Niagara Falls and Santorini all wrapped up into one,” says Brianna Green of Kuiper Belt Tours, “with a nice dash of undetermined geologic activity.” Honeymooners will also find plenty of secluded hideaways in the equatorial “dark sections,” where you can escape the crowds—as well as the high concentrations of nitrogen and methane—you’ll find at the poles.
As the Gateway to the Third Zone of the Solar System, Pluto provides a great jumping off point for day trips. As exciting as Pluto is, sometimes the atmosphere can be a little much. That’s why it’s so nice that Eris—which has no atmosphere at all—is close by. And, as locals will tell you, it’s more dense and weightier than Pluto, a point of pride that will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever found themselves in the midst of a New York vs. L.A. argument. Outdoor types, meanwhile, should make their way to Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, where canyons, chasms, and craters await.
Pluto: It may not be a planet, but it’s only 3 billion miles away.
A couple of tips if you’re going:
1. Bring layers.
2. Make sure your spacecraft is powered by plutonium. It should travel at least 30,000 miles per hour.
Photo by NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI