Astronomers have discovered an icy “dwarf” planet in our solar system whose orbit hints at a giant, unseen rocky world. Hiding out in the dim reaches of the solar system, the planet lurks about 250 times farther away from the sun than Earth.
The dwarf planet has been dubbed 2012 VP113 by the Minor Planet Center as it was spotted in images taken in November 2012. This lump of rock and ice is 450 kilometres wide and lies at some 83 astronomical units (one astronomical unit, or AU, is 93 million miles) from the sun at its closest approach.
“A rogue planet could have been ejected from our solar system and perturbed their orbits,” says astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. “Definitely, it could still be out there.”
Sedna, another dwarf-planet-size object orbiting far beyond Pluto, was discovered way back in 2003.
“We thought Pluto was unique for over 70 years, but we now know that it shares its orbit with thousands of other objects,” adds Sheppard.
Along with 11 other objects that have been discovered orbiting beyond Pluto (including Sedna), these icy dwarf planets seem to swarm the far reaches of the solar system.
Astronomers continue with their search for other Sedna-like objects in the solar system, which are likely to outnumber their Kuiper Belt cousins.
“To all intents and purposes, in the current architecture of the solar system, Sedna and 2012 VP113 should not be there,” says astronomer Megan Schwamb of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica. “This suggests that Sedna and 2012 VP113 are the tip of the iceberg.”
[Source: New Scientist]