Astronomers Discover New Dwarf Planet 10 Billion Miles from the Sun

Monday, 11 July 2016 - 5:35PM
Astronomy
Sun
Monday, 11 July 2016 - 5:35PM
Astronomers Discover New Dwarf Planet 10 Billion Miles from the Sun
Move over, Pluto. An international team of astronomers has just discovered an icy dwarf planet in the disk of small objects beyond Neptune, and this one is even further than our former ninth planet. In fact, it has one of the largest orbits for a dwarf planet ever discovered, at 17 billion kilometers, or 10 billion miles, away from our Sun.

The dwarf planet is over 120 times further from the Sun than Earth. To put that into perspective, it takes 700 years for the object to make a complete orbit, which makes it one of the furthest objects in our solar system. It takes the Sun's light 16.63 hours to reach the dwarf planet, while it only takes seven hours to reach Pluto. 

The object, called 2015 RR245, was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii, as part of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which aims to track the origins of the more mysterious parts of our solar system by studying trans-Neptunian objects. It was first detected in February of this year, while astronomers were OSSOS images from September 2015.
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"There it was on the screen- this dot of light moving so slowly that it had to be at least twice as far as Neptune from the Sun," said Dr. Michele Bannister of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who is a postdoctoral fellow with the Survey, in a statement.
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New Dwarf Planet Discovery

The object is described as the 18th largest object in the Kuiper Belt, although the size is not precisely known. The properties of the surface would need to be determined before judging its size, since, as Bannister puts it, "It's either small and shiny, or large and dull."

But regardless of its exact size, it's one of the largest objects known dwarf planets, and one of the few to survive the chaos that occurred in our Solar System as the main planets moved to their current positions. It has existed for at least 100 million years, and as a result of its brightness (or its size), we are able to study an icy dwarf planet, and therefore the history of the early Solar System, better than ever before.

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"The icy worlds beyond Neptune trace how the giant planets formed and then moved out from the Sun. They let us piece together the history of our Solar System," said Bannister. "But almost all of these icy worlds are painfully small and faint: it's really exciting to find one that's large and bright enough that we can study it in detail."
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