Discovery of Pluto
The orbit of each of the planets is slightly affected by the
gravitational influences of the other planets. Discrepancies in the early 1900s between the observed and expected orbits of Uranus and Neptune suggested that there were one or more additional
planets beyond Neptune. The search for these led to the discovery of
Pluto in February 1930, which was too small to explain the discrepancies. Revised estimates of Neptune's mass from the
Voyager 2 flyby in 1989 showed that the problem was spurious.
Pluto was easiest to find because it has the highest
apparent magnitude of all known trans-Neptunian objects. It also has a lower inclination to the
ecliptic than most other large TNOs.
Discovery of other trans-Neptunian objects
After Pluto's discovery, American astronomer
Clyde Tombaugh continued searching for some years for similar objects, but found none. For a long time, no one searched for other TNOs as it was generally believed that Pluto, which up to August 2006 was classified a planet, was the only major object beyond Neptune. Only after the 1992 discovery of a second TNO,
1, did systematic searches for further such objects begin. A broad strip of the sky around the
ecliptic was photographed and digitally evaluated for slowly moving objects. Hundreds of TNOs were found, with diameters in the range of 50 to 2,500 kilometers.
Eris, the most massive TNO, was discovered in 2005, revisiting a long-running dispute within the scientific community over the classification of large TNOs, and whether objects like Pluto can be considered planets. Pluto and Eris were eventually classified as
dwarf planets by the
International Astronomical Union.