Scientists Find Dwarf Planet ‘The Goblin’ Lurking in the Outer Solar System

05 Octobre, 2018, 04:11 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Scientists Find Dwarf Planet ‘The Goblin’ Lurking in the Outer Solar System

Astronomers have found a small object far beyond Pluto that orbits the sun in a lonely, oblong loop, a discovery that supports the notion of a larger, more distant planet - often referred to as Planet X - wandering the edge of our solar system. 2015 TG387 has a larger semi-major axis than either 2012 VP113 or Sedna, which means it travels much further from the Sun at its most distant point in its orbit, which is around 2300 AU.

The dwarf planet is estimated to reach some 2,300 Astronomical Units (AU) from the sun at maximum, putting it more than twice as far out as Sedna. Dwarf planet Pluto, by comparison, is six times as wide.

A research team led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science first spotted The Goblin just before Halloween in 2015.

Thousands - even a million - more such objects could be way out there orbiting in the so-called Inner Oort Cloud, according to the researchers.

To put that in perspective, pretend that you could shrink the solar system so that the sun is in NY and Pluto lies in Los Angeles.

"Scientists think this is a small world that's similar to other small worlds in our solar system".

This large difference between The Goblin's closest approach and its farthest approach is the evidence for Planet Nine that astronomers are looking for.

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The new find, which has been nicknamed "The Goblin", was introduced Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

A paper describing it has also been submitted to the Astronomical Journal.

Nicknamed "Planet Nine", the idea first emerged in 2014 when Dr Scott Sheppard and Professor Chad Trujillo sought to explain a unusual cluster of six small objects in the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects beyond Neptune.

The Goblin, as well as other objects observed in the outer reaches of the solar system, appears to be under the "gravitational influence of a giant unseen object, adding to astronomers' certainty that it [Planet Nine] is out there", The Guardian says.

Sheppard has embarked on an ongoing survey to find tiny planetoids on the solar system's outer rim. Their isolation makes them unique. "They can be used as probes to understand what is happening at the edge of our Solar System". Observations using the Subaru Telescope led to the discovery of the mini-world known as The Goblin.

Given the object's slow movement along an elongated orbit, it took Sheppard and his team a few years of observing to understand the Goblin and its orbit.

"We think there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the Solar System's fringes, but their distance makes finding them very hard", Tholen said. They found significant shepherding akin to that inferred for other distant objects - and determined that 2015 TG387's orbit remains stable for the age of the solar system nonetheless. Because in 99% of positions on its orbit the planet is too faint to be seen. That's where Planet X comes in. At its closest, it gets about two and a half times as far from the sun as Pluto. The Goblin sits right in the middle of the cluster of known objects, he said, and the astronomical search helps scientists home in on Planet Nine's location. "If the trends are true, then we don't know of another explanation for why they would be grouped in an orbit like this", Sheppard said.

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