Just months after FarOut, the farthest known object in the solar system, was discovered, the same team of astronomers discovered the faint but unacknowledged glimmer of one Object still further away. Called FarFarOut, the extreme dwarf planet is 13 billion kilometers away – so far, the sun's rays need nearly 20 hours to reach it.
Sometimes it takes a snow day to promote an incredible scientific discovery.
Astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science is scheduled to give a talk last week in Washington DC about the ongoing search for the hypothetical Planet Nine, Science Magazine reports. However, when the bad weather forced him to postpone the event, Sheppard decided to investigate the astronomical data collected by his team in January.
And then he discovered it – an object that had 140 astronomical units (AU) from Earth, where 1 AU is the average distance from Earth to the Sun, a span of about 93 million miles. The newly discovered object – probably an extreme dwarf planet – was given the placeholder name FarFarOut, possibly displacing FarOut as the remotest known object in the solar system. As early as December 2018, Sheppard discovered along with his colleagues Chadwick Trujillo of Northern Arizona University and David Tholen of the University of Hawaii FarOut or 2018 VG18, a 120-kilometer Kuiper belt object that is located 120 AU of the AU Earth. At the beginning of the year, the same team discovered Goblin or 2015 TG38, another extreme dwarf planet, which is at 80 AU. All objects, including FarFarOut, were discovered by this team with the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Other previously known objects in the distance are Eris at 96 AU and Pluto at 34 AU.
This trio of astronomers has been exploring the Kuiper Belt for years, conducting the largest and deepest exploration ever undertaken in the region. This search could lead to the discovery of the hypothetical planet Nine, sometimes referred to as Planet X, which is believed to exist due to the anomalous alignment of some objects in the outer region of the solar system. Planet X still needs to be found, but with each discovery of other objects in the Kuiper Belt, astronomers are getting closer, either to prove or disprove their existence.
"It's exciting to look at the sky no one has ever taken as deep as us," Sheppard told Gizmodo. "To describe Forrest Gump, every picture is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you'll find."
The ability to detect objects at such extreme distances depends on the size of the object said, and we You should be able to see large objects, even if they are really far away. FarFarOut is about 400 km long. This is close to our current ability to detect objects at about 140 AU. In the image showing FarFarOut, the object actually appears as a faint spot of light. If it had been smaller, FarFarOut would probably have missed the discovery, Sheppard explained. If objects larger than FarFarOut exist beyond 140 AU, we should be able to recognize them.
"So far we have covered about 25 percent of the sky in our survey. So there are probably some bigger objects outside of FarFarOut that we should be able to recognize, "Sheppard said.
The existence of this alleged extreme dwarf planet is not conclusively proven for the time being. Sheppard must see it again to confirm that it is actually there and to confirm its orbit.
"At the moment, we only watched FarFarOut for a 24 hour time base," he said. "These discovery observations show that the object is at 140 AU, but it could also be between 130 and 150 AU. We do not know orbit yet because we did not do the necessary follow-up. "
A blizzard may be seen as a motivation for this discovery, but bad weather would be a major obstacle now.
"I am currently at the Magellan Telescope in Chile and we hope for good weather in the next few days to re-watch this interesting object," he said.