Published: Tue, December 18, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Most-distant solar system object ever discovered

Most-distant solar system object ever discovered

The tiny object has been nicknamed "Farout" by the team at Carnegie - and was found during the search for Planet X, the unseen, huge planet believed to lurk at the edge of our solar system.

"Farout" is about 120 astronomical units away - that's 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun, or 11 billion miles. The object is more than 3.5 times the current distance between Pluto and the sun (34 AU), and it outpaces the previous farthest-known solar system object, the dwarf planet Eris, which is now about 96 AU from the sun.

Pluto, by comparison, is about 34 AU from the Sun, so Farout is 3.5 times more distant. In addition to Farout being so distant, Sheppard said that when he first saw the planet he shouted out loud: "far out!" Dubbed "Farout", the object is more than 120 times farther from the Sun than Earth is.

'The orbital similarities shown by numerous known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects'.

The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center announced the discovery Monday, calling the object 2018 VG18.

To be clear: The record Farout now holds is for the most-distant solar system body ever observed.

The Carnegie Institution's Scott Sheppard said the object - designated 2018 VG18 - is so far away and moving so slowly it will take a few years to determine its orbit. One AU is equal to the average distance from the Earth to the sun, or just under 150m kilometres.

Candanosa and Scott S. Sheppard  Carnegie Institution for Science
Candanosa and Scott S. Sheppard Carnegie Institution for Science

The far-out object - which is also known by its more official but less colorful designation, 2018 VG18 - was detected with Japan's 8-meter Subaru Telescope in Hawaii during a campaign to look for extremely distant solar system objects, including a hypothetical Planet X or Planet Nine.

"The orbital similarities shown by numerous known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects".

Image: Scott S. Sheppard/David Tholen. "This would make it a dwarf planet". In the last few years, astronomers have discovered the Goblin, Biden, Sedna, and Eris in the region from about 80 AU to 96 AU. That color has been associated with objects that are rich in ice, and given its distance from the sun, that isn't hard to believe.

"This discovery is truly an worldwide achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States", Trujillo said in a statement.

"With new wide-field digital cameras on some of the world's largest telescopes, we are finally exploring our solar system's fringes far beyond Pluto", he said.

Astronomers do not yet have a good sense of VG18's orbit - whether it is elliptical and zooms inward near Neptune, or if it is more circular and always stays far away.

In this case, though, astronomers will have to wait a while to determine Farout's orbit. There must be another large planet out there, shepherding them through space.

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