Solar system's most distant planetoid confirmed
by Staff Writers
Manoa HI (SPX) Feb 11, 2021
A team, including an astronomer from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA), have confirmed a planetoid that is almost four times farther from the Sun than Pluto, making it the most distant object ever observed in our solar system. The planetoid, nicknamed "Farfarout," was first detected in 2018, and the team has now collected enough observations to pin down the orbit. The Minor Planet Center has now given it the official designation of 2018 AG37.
Farfarout's name distinguished it from the previous record holder "Farout," found by the same team of astronomers in 2018. The team includes UH Manoa's David Tholen, Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University, who have an ongoing survey to map the outer solar system beyond Pluto.
Journey around the Sun
Farfarout's journey around the Sun takes about a thousand years, crossing the giant planet Neptune's orbit every time. This means Farfarout has probably experienced strong gravitational interactions with Neptune over the age of the solar system, and is the reason why it has such a large and elongated orbit.
"A single orbit of Farfarout around the Sun takes a millennium," said Tholen. "Because of this long orbital period, it moves very slowly across the sky, requiring several years of observations to precisely determine its trajectory."
Discovered on Maunakea
Farfarout is very faint, and based on its brightness and distance from the Sun, the team estimates its size to be about 400 km across, putting it on the low end of being a dwarf planet, assuming it is an ice-rich object.
"The discovery of Farfarout shows our increasing ability to map the outer solar system and observe farther and farther towards the fringes of our solar system," said Sheppard.
"Only with the advancements in the last few years of large digital cameras on very large telescopes has it been possible to efficiently discover very distant objects like Farfarout. Even though some of these distant objects are quite large, being dwarf planet in size, they are very faint because of their extreme distances from the Sun. Farfarout is just the tip of the iceberg of solar system objects in the very distant solar system."
Interacting with Neptune
Only those objects whose orbits stay in the very distant solar system, well beyond Neptune's gravitational influence, can be used to probe for signs of an unknown massive planet. These include Sedna and 2012 VP113, which, although they are currently closer to the Sun than Farfarout (at around 80 au), they never approach Neptune and thus would be most influenced by the possible Planet X instead.
"Farfarout's orbital dynamics can help us understand how Neptune formed and evolved, as Farfarout was likely thrown into the outer solar system by getting too close to Neptune in the distant past," said Trujillo. "Farfarout will likely interact with Neptune again since their orbits continue to intersect."
The 15th Anniversary of New Horizons Leaving Earth
Boulder CO (SPX) Jan 21, 2021
New Horizons is healthy and continues to send data back from the Kuiper Belt, even as it speeds farther and farther from the Earth and the Sun. But the mission's jam-packed plans for new Kuiper Belt exploration this year are not the subject of this PI Perspective. Instead, I want to concentrate on a very special anniversary, taking place today - our 15th anniversary of launch! That's right, New Horizons lifted into skies above the Florida coast -from the same Cape Canaveral pad used to launc ... read more
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