Just yesterday, astronomers uncovered a brand new dwarf planet orbiting on the edge of our solar system just beyond the reaches of Pluto. Experts estimate that it measures approximately 435 miles across making it the fifth known dwarf planet discovered to date. This latest discovery was made by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and eventually announced later by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
For now, the exciting discovery will be referred to as RR245. It is hoped that a suitable name will be chosen for it shortly. The object was eventually found due to images taken by the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS). Dr. Michele Bannister from the University of Victoria, British Columbia released a statement saying: “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.”
Scientists have been spending the time since the first sighting attempting to confirm the object’s validity as well as establishing its orbit. Given its vast distance from Earth, astrophysicists know so little about RR245 at the moment. Bannister notes, “It’s either small and shiny or large and dull.” As brightness can tell such a great deal about a planet’s surface chemistry, scientists are enthusiastic to uncover which is the case.
Currently, the OSSOS’s estimates determine that it is more than likely smaller than Ceres. “The dwarf planet Haumea is covered in water ice and is very reflective. That can be due to a past history of massive collisions. The size of an object also affects what icy materials it can keep around on its surface: bigger ones are able to keep molecules like methane, where smaller ones will lose that over billions of years due to the physics of volatile escape,” according to Bannister.
Among other collaborators, Bannister is searching for a time when RR245 will pass in front of a star so they may gain the fleeting opportunity to measure its size more accurately. While size may not be a certainty at this point, its orbit is much better understood. Over the course of its 700-year orbit, it has spent most of its time beyond the reach of other objects within our Solar System reaching as much as 12 billion miles.
Experts believe that the year 2092 will see RR245 reach its closest orbit to the Earth with a mere 34 AU which wouldn’t be far from the orbit of Neptune (a great deal closer than Pluto’s average distance from the Sun).
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