Sol’s Newest Dwarf Planet

A couple of weeks ago, using the Subaru Telescope, astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered the newest dwarf planet of our solar system, which may end up claiming the title for most distant dwarf planet.

Credit: Scott Sheppard, Chad Trujillo and Dave Tholen: Subaru Telescope

The object, which isn’t even confirmed as a dwarf planet yet, is called V774104.  It resides a distance of 2-3 times that of Pluto, around 9 Billion Km.  It is expected to be a little less than half of Pluto’s size, and it may have a highly eccentric orbit, bringing it closer to the Sun over it’s multi-century trip around the solar system.

“That’s pretty much all we know about it. We don’t know its orbit yet because we only just discovered it about two weeks ago,” said astronomer Scott Sheppard in an interview with space.com.  He announced the discovery on November 10th at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) planetary division.

Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com contributor

Looking for new dwarf planets throughout the solar system is a difficult process, though we expect there to be a lot of objects out there.  Beyond Neptune is a massively spread out group of objects known as the Kuiper Belt.  they consist mostly of short period comets, but larger objects like Eris and Pluto have obtained dwarf planet status.  The goal of modern Kuiper Belt searches is to catalogue as many of the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO’s) as possible in order to determine how much raw material was present at the beginning of the solar system, knowledge that will help us discover how the evolution of the solar system unfolded, and, on a grander scale, how these materials led to life on Earth.

Planetary science, after all, is the medium step in the search for our origins.  The small step is archaeology and evolutionary biology, studying the puzzle of how life formed once the raw materials were already on our planet.  The large step is cosmology, understanding how the universe formed and forged the heaviest elements and galaxies needed for our Milky Way to be just the way it is, for our Sun to be the right size and temperature, to form planets just like Earth.  All of science is one immense puzzle, and we are constantly discovering new pieces, figuring out where they fit, and occasionally, finding out that there was a huge part of puzzle that we haven’t even looked at yet.

 

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