Discovery of Dwarf Planet ‘The Goblin’ Redefines Solar System | Astronomy

An extremely distant dwarf planet, named The Goblin, has been discovered in observations that redefine the far reaches of the solar system.

Astronomers made the discovery while searching for a hypothetical massive planet, known as Planet Nine, which is believed to orbit well beyond Pluto in a mysterious region known as Oort Cloud. Planet nine has yet to be seen directly, but the goblin appears to be under the gravitational influence of an invisible giant object, adding to astronomers’ certainty that it is there.

The recently discovered frozen world, estimated to be only 300 km in diameter, is in an extremely elongated orbit. Closer, it moves away about two and a half times from the sun than Pluto. Then it heads to the farthest fringes of the solar system, nearly 60 times farther than Pluto, taking 40,000 years to loop around the sun. For 99% of its orbit, it would be too faint to be seen.

The orbits of the new 2015 extreme dwarf planet TG387, nicknamed the Goblin, and its companions Inner-Oort Cloud objects 2012 VP113 and Sedna compared to the rest of the solar system. Photography: Illustration by Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott Sheppard / Carnegie Institution for Science

The object is the third minor planet to be found in the Outer Solar System, after the discoveries of Sedna and, recently, another object called 2012 VP113. And this region that once seemed cold, dark and empty now appears as a rich collection of exotic and extreme objects.

“We’re just finding out what the very outer solar system might look like and what might be out there,” said Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC and team member. “We believe there are thousands of dwarf planets in the distant solar system. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. “

Oddly enough, the orbits of the three objects discovered so far appear to be clustered together, suggesting they are being guided by a giant, unknown object. This told astronomers the existence of a ninth planet the size of a super-Earth.

Konstantin Batygin, assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech, who worked on theoretical simulations of the hypothetical Planet Nine, called the latest observations “a great discovery indeed.”

“Despite centuries of investigation, our understanding of the solar system remains incomplete,” he said. “This certainly adds to the growing register of objects that show the influence of Planet Nine.”

The official name of the new dwarf planet, assigned by the Center for Minor Planets of the International Astronomical Union, is 2015 TG387. But it quickly gained its most memorable nickname because “human examination of slow-moving candidate objects occurred around the time of Halloween,” explained David Tholen of the University of Hawaii and member of the observation team.

The discovery was made using the Japanese 8-meter Subaru telescope located on the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. The telescope is the only one in the world that can produce deep images capable of probing the far reaches of the solar system, while having a field of view large enough to be able to image enough sky to discover rare objects. “With other large telescopes, it’s like looking through a straw and so they’re good at observing things that you know are there, but not at finding new things because their field of view is too small to cover. large areas of the sky, ”Sheppard said. .

The team will begin a new round of sightings in November, hoping to find more objects, possibly including the elusive Planet Nine.

Arline J. Mercier

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