Pluto is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth's moon and probably has a rocky core surrounded by a mantle of water ice. More exotic ices like methane and nitrogen frost coat its surface. Owing to its size and lower density, Pluto's mass is about one-sixth that of Earth's moon. Pluto is more massive than Ceres -- the dwarf planet that resides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter -- by a factor of 14.
Pluto's 248-year-long elliptical orbit can take it as far as 49.3 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. (One AU is the mean distance between Earth and the sun: about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.) From 1979 to 1999, Pluto was actually closer to the sun than Neptune, and in 1989, Pluto came to within 29.8 AU of the sun, providing rare opportunities to study this small, cold, distant world.
Since its orbit is so elliptical, when Pluto is close to the sun, its surface ices sublimate, changing directly from solid to a gas, and rise and temporarily form a thin atmosphere. Pluto's low gravity (about six percent of Earth's) causes the atmosphere to be much more extended in altitude than our planet's atmosphere. Pluto becomes much colder during the part of each orbit when it is traveling far away from the sun. During this time, the bulk of the planet's atmosphere is thought to freeze and fall as snow to the surface.