It seems that our solar system ahs more to offer than we ever thought. A group of college students from the University of Michigan, led by physicist David Gerdes, has discovered a new dwarf planet located at a staggering distance of 13,700 million kilometers from the Sun. Interestingly, the newly found dwarf planet is one of the farthest ever discovered and could aid astronomers in the hunt for the mysterious Planet Nine.
Although currently only five dwarf planets have been officially recognized (Ceres, Makemake, Haumea, Eris, and Pluto), it is believed that there could be at least 100 more in the Kuiper Belt, an area inhabited by comets, asteroids and dwarf planets.
2014 UZ224 could soon join the family of recognized members of the solar system, reports Space.com.
According to the standards set down by the International Astronomical Union (IAU):
A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.
The search for the new celestial object wasn’t simple even though it may sound easy. To detect an object in the solar system astronomers looked for something that is moving. Afterward, the University of Michigan team used a specialized software to connect the dots and confirm that what they were seeing was unique.
David Gerdes, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan, told NPR that the new dwarf planet was discovered using an instrument called the Dark Energy Camera (DECam).
“We often just have a single observation of the thing, on one night,” Gerdes told NPR. “And then two weeks later one observation, and then five nights later another observation, and four months later another observation.”
The team of astronomers developed a software that eventually spotted 2014 UZ224 moving slightly, compared to more distant objects like stars and galaxies which remained stationary.
The technique used to discover 2014 UZ224 could soon be used in the hunt for the elusive planet Nine, believed to exist somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto.
Speaking about the potential discovery of Planet nine, Gerdes said to NPR: „I’m excited about the chances of the people in this room finding it. Of course, I’m happy for humanity if someone else finds it, it would be the most exciting astronomical discovery in our lifetime, I think.”
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