An international team of astronomers has discovered a pink dwarf planet in our solar system.
The planet, which is nicknamed ‘Farout’, is the the furthest object ever detected in the solar system. It is located 17.95 billion kilometres (11.15 billion miles) from the Sun.
It’s a small, round object with a pinkish hue, and due to its colour, astronomers believe it to be ice-rich.
The dwarf planet is officially called 2018 VG18, and is only 500 kilometres (310 miles) in diameter. Farout is the first object discovered that is more than 100 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. 1 AU is the distance between Earth and the Sun.
According to IFLScience!, Farout was found at a distance of 120 AU. Previously, the dwarf planet Eris was thought to be the furthest object at a distance of 96 AU. Pluto, meanwhile, is at a distance of 34 AU.
Farout was discovered thanks to images taken by the Japanese Subaru Telescope, which sits on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Follow-up observations were made at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to confirm the distance.
The discovery was made by Carnegie Science’s Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen, and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo.
In a statement from Carnegie Science, Scott S. Sheppard said:
2018 VG18 is much more distant and slower moving than any other observed Solar System object, so it will take a few years to fully determine its orbit.
But it was found in a similar location on the sky to the other known extreme Solar System objects, suggesting it might have the same type of orbit that most of them do.
The orbital similarities shown by many of the known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects.
David Tholen added:
All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color.
Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.
Chad Trujillo said:
This discovery is truly an international achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States.
With new wide-field digital cameras on some of the world’s largest telescopes, we are finally exploring our Solar System’s fringes, far beyond Pluto.
The newly discovered object was observed over a number of nights in order to determine its basic physical properties, such as brightness and colour. The observations confirmed it is the first object to be observed beyond 100 AU.
They also confirmed, due to its brightness, that it is most likely spherical in shape, around 500km in diameter and a dwarf planet.
The existence of a planet like this, right on the fringes of our solar system, was first proposed by the research team in 2014, when they discovered another object that was around 84 AU away from the sun and believed others exited further away.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.