|NASA / ESA / Adolf Schaller|
November 11, 2015 - SPACE - Move aside, Sedna and 2012 VP113. There's a new most distant object in our solar system, and it strengthens the hypothetical case for an unseen large planet at the outer boundaries of our solar system.
The object, V774104, was announced today at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in National Harbor, Maryland. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute characterized the potential planet as between 300 and 600 miles in diameter, on par with a medium-sized moon.
This makes it a likely dwarf planet, as it's roughly the size of Ceres in the Asteroid Belt.
At 103 astronomical units out (or 103 times the distance of the sun to the Earth), this is the most distant object ever recorded, besting Eris, Sedna, and 2012 VP113.
It also adds on to a case built on the discovery of the latter, whose unusual orbit points to the tug of a distant planetary-mass object.
Though previous surveys have ruled out anything above the size of Saturn, there still could be a Neptune-sized world or a super-Earth (or even two) farther out, too dark and distant to detect. For now, though, this is just speculation that can't be ruled out.
There's also the possibility that the objects were tugged into their present orbits by a passing star around the time of the formation of the solar system.
V774104 may be part of the Inner Oort Cloud, a region farther out than the Kuiper Belt where Pluto and Eris live. It's where most long-period comets are believed to have originated.
A dozen smaller objects were discovered along with the new object, but little else is known of it, including its orbit. It could be oblong, like that of Sedna, another Inner Oort Cloud object. That one comes as close as 86 AU and goes as far out as 937 AU, giving it one of the strangest orbits in our solar system.
If this newly discovered object ends up being an Inner Oort Cloud object, it could prove valuable in helping astronomers understand the solar system.
Sheppard and co-author Chadwick Trujillo plan on studying the object in more detail to correctly determine its orbit.
Trujillo already has a few new objects under his belt, having co-discovered Eris and two other dwarf planets, Makemake and Haumea, as well as Sedna. - Popular Mechanics.