Scientists always have their eyes in the skies. Although Neptune is the single furthest planet in our Solar System, Pluto was once considered a planet, and is now considered a dwarf planet. Of course, Pluto isn’t the only dwarf planet out there.
There are multiple dwarf planets in our solar system, including Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake, but scientists from The International Astronomical Union believe they may have discovered another one just outside of the orbit of Pluto.
Image Credit: Alex Parker OSSOS team
Inside of the Kuiper Belt, an object follows an orbital path around the Sun and is potentially large enough to be considered a dwarf planet. It was among 600 other icy objects that were being monitored by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope located in Hawaii.
"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. 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." Dr Michele Bannister of the University of Victoria in British Columbia said in a statement.
Dwarf planets have to meet certain requirements to be considered one, including orbiting the Sun, having enough mass to produce to gravity necessary for a circular shape, having cleared the neighborhood of debris, and not being a satellite for another planet in the solar system.
Will the new object, subtly named 2015 RR245, become known as a dwarf planet? It’s too early to tell.
Right now, the information shows that the object may be up to double the distance from the Sun that Neptune is, but at its furthest point, it could get as far away from the Sun as 120 times the distance of Earth from the Sun (it’s quite the distant voyage, as indicated by the diagram above).
"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 Bannister.
At these incredible distances, it can be hard to observe with current observation technology. These icy bodies are blurry when observed via telescopes from Earth, and you can’t get a really clear picture or study them up close without sending a spacecraft out to go look at them.
As we learned with New Horizons fly-by just last year, it took the spacecraft nearly a decade to get to Pluto, and this potential dwarf planet is even further out.
With only a telescope to look at the object, and little known about it, there’s little we can do right now except produce theories. Ner Horizons is headed for a different Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), and it's unlikely it'll ever cross paths with this object.
Source: CHF via NYT, Space Facts