Newly Discovered Dwarf Planet Hints At a Hidden Super Earth In Dim Reaches of Solar System

Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Earth & Space, Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments

Discovery of an icy “dwarf” world beyond Pluto hints that a much bigger planet may hide even farther out in the dim reaches of the solar system, astronomers suggested on Wednesday.

By Ian Sample | The Guardian

  • Orbits sun at greater distance than any other known object
  • 2012 VP113 may be shepherded by unseen planet
  • Discovery team call it VP, or ‘Biden’ after US vice president
The orbits of Sedna (orange) and dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (red). Also shown are the orbits of the giant planets (purple). The Kuiper belt is the dotted light blue region. Illustration: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

The orbits of Sedna (orange) and dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (red). Also shown are the orbits of the giant planets (purple). The Kuiper belt is the dotted light blue region. Illustration: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

Astronomers have increased the size of the observable solar system after spotting a 450-km wide object orbiting the sun.


The lump of ice and rock circles the sun at a greater distance than any known object, and never gets closer than 12bn kilometers – 80 times the distance from Earth to the sun.

If its size is confirmed it could qualify as a dwarf planet in the same category as Pluto. Researchers said the discovery proves the existence of the inner Oort cloud, a region of icy bodies that lies far beyond the orbit of Neptune – which at 4.5bn kilometres from the sun is the most remote planet in the solar system.

Until a proper name is decided upon, the body is known only as 2012 VP113. According to the science journal Nature, the team that discovered it call it VP for short, or “Biden”, after US vice president Joe Biden.

Its pink tinge comes from radiation damage that alters the make-up of frozen water, methane and carbon dioxide on the surface.

Though exciting in its own right, the discovery raises a more tantalising prospect for many astronomers: that a “Super Earth” up to 10 times the mass of our planet orbits the sun at such a great distance that it has never been seen.


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Three images of the newly discovered dwarf planet 2012 VP113 taken about two hours apart on 5 November 2012. Photograph: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

Three images of the newly discovered dwarf planet 2012 VP113 taken about two hours apart on 5 November 2012. Photograph: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

Astronomers found 2012 VP113 by taking snapshots of the night sky an hour or so apart with an instrument called the Dark Energy Camera on the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory telescope in Chile. When they turned the images into a time-lapse movie of the sky, they could see the new body moving against the background of stationary stars.

“This object has the most distant orbit known,” Scott Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution of Washington told the Guardian. “It extends the known boundary of the observable solar system.”

The object’s orbit brings it as close as 12bn kilometres from the sun, and swings out as far as 67bn kilometres. There are comets that come from even farther out, but they pass much closer to our home planet.

The solar system has three distinct regions. Closest to the sun are the rocky planets, such as Venus, Earth and Mars. Farther out are the gas giants, such as Saturn and Jupiter. More distant still, beyond the orbit of Neptune, is a band of icy objects called the Kuiper belt.

Read the rest of the article….

Also see: Dwarf Planet Discovery Hints at Hidden World Orbiting Solar System

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