In Largest Planet Discovery Ever, Scientists Say They Found 838 New Worlds Beyond Neptune
The number of objects orbiting the sun just increased by 50 percent, thanks to a group of scientists who just discovered 838 minor planets just on the other side of Neptune.
Between 2013 and 2017, researchers with the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS) have been using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Maunakea, Hawaii, to map the paths of hundreds of "small worlds" in the region of space beyond Neptune.
"This is the largest set of discoveries ever made," wrote Queen's University Belfast research fellow Michele Bannister for The Conversation.
"These little icy worlds are important as they help us tell the solar system's history. They can also help us test the idea that there's a yet unseen planet lurking in the outer solar system."
The mapping process involved looking in eight patches of sky away from the Milky Way star fields for points of light that were dim and slow-moving.
Over the course of five years, the researchers collected and hand-checked over 37,000 measurements so that they could track the arcs of the trans-Neptunian objects and not lose the more distant ones, which has been an issue with previous studies.
"The new icy and rocky objects fall into two main groups," Bannister explains.
"One includes those that reside on roundish orbits in the Kuiper belt, which extends from 37au to approximately 50au from the sun. The other consists of worlds that orbit in a careful dance of avoidance with Neptune as it travels around the sun. These 'resonant' trans-Neptunian objects, which include Pluto, were pushed into their current elongated orbits during Neptune's migration outwards."
A theory is that the yet-unseen "Planet Nine" could be causing the objects to cluster, but we have to find that massive world first before giving it that kind of credit.