Although Pluto is no longer considered a planet, it's still a celestial body of serious discussion — particularly in Flagstaff, Arizona.
It was there that Pluto was discovered by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh from Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory in 1930.
In honor of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reaching Pluto in July, Flagstaff has unveiled a year-long roster of festivities to celebrate the now-dwarf planet.
The celebration will feature some new additions to Lowell Observatory, such as an exhibit that showcases Tombaugh's log books, letters and calculations. The exhibit also includes a letter by a young British girl who suggested that Tombaugh name the planet Pluto, after the Roman god of the underworld.
Other celebrations include Pluto-themed food in local restaurants and a walking tour that includes places Tombaugh visited the night he discovered the dwarf planet — including the movie theater he visited before heading up to the observatory.
"The whole city of Flagstaff has a scientific bent," said Flagstaff artist Paula Rice, who plans on creating a sculpture once new Pluto images arrive from New Horizons. "And we live at 7,000 feet in altitude, so our ocean is the night sky. We naturally look up."
Although Tombaugh arrived in Flagstaff to work at the Lowell Observatory in the 1920s, he didn't discover Pluto until nearly a decade later. His job consisted of staring at small patches of sky, looking for signs of movement in search of the elusive Planet X. Eventually, Tombaugh witnessed that movement, resulting in the discovery of Pluto.
After astronomers determined new designations for planets in 2006, though, Pluto was redefined as a dwarf planet. This proved a controversial topic, with many people still arguing for Pluto's status as a full-fledged planet.
Pluto's demotion doesn't however make it any less interesting. For the first time, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will visit Pluto in July and take close-up photographs of the dwarf planet unlike anything we've ever seen. It's likely that we'll learn a lot of new details about Pluto, and it's even more likely that this new information will lead to some surprising discoveries.
NASA also plans on engaging the public in naming some of Pluto's features once New Horizons reaches the dwarf planet. The agency recently extended its deadline for Pluto feature names to the public until April 24.
"Due to increasing interest and the number of submissions we're getting, it was clear we needed to extend this public outreach activity," said Jim Green, NASA's Planetary Science Division director.
"This campaign not only reveals the public's excitement about the mission, but helps the team, which will not have time to come up with names during the flyby, to have a ready-made library of names in advance to officially submit to the IAU."