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Will Pluto Ever Hit Neptune?

pluto, neptune, space, orbit
Pluto and Neptune orbits are not in the same plane. (Image credit: Hubble.)

Jason asks: "Since Pluto's orbit intersects Neptune's orbit, will Pluto ever crash into Neptune or become one of Neptune's moons?"

Answer: No. From 1979 to 1999, Pluto was the eighth planet from the sun. In 1999, it slipped beyond Neptune to become the ninth. But Pluto's 248-year orbit around the sun takes it 17 degrees above and below the plane in which Neptune and the other planets travel. So their paths don't actually cross as they swap positions. Imagine you are the sun in the middle of your back yard. The fence is Neptune's orbit. You toss a boomerang way out over the neighbor's houses and it comes back, being on both sides of your fence during its travels without hitting the fence. Of course, activity like that can be frowned upon, and in Pluto's case helped lead to its demotion.

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Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.