Only a few months after the discovery of FarOut, the farthest known object in the solar system, the same team of astronomers discovered the weak but not yet confirmed glimpses of an object, even farther away. Called FarFarOut, the extreme dwarf planet is 13 billion miles – so far it takes nearly 20 hours to reach the sun's rays to reach it.
Sometimes it takes a day for snow to encourage an incredible scientific discovery. Scott Shepard of the Carnegie Institute of Science had to deliver a lecture last week in Washington on the ongoing search for a hypothetical "Planet nine," Science magazine reported. But when the gloomy weather forced him to postpone the event, Shepherd decided to look at the astronomical data gathered by his team in January.
And then he noticed it – an object located on 140 astronomical units (AUs) from Earth, where 1 AU is the average distance from Earth to the Sun, which is about 93 million miles. The newly discovered object – possibly an extreme dwarf planet – was named FarFarOut, potentially displacing FarOut as the most remote object known in the solar system.
Already in December 2018, Shepherd, along with colleagues Chadwick Trujillo of the University of North Arizona and David Tolen of Hawaii University, noticed FarOut, or 2018 VG18, a 500 km (500 km) kilometer. AU from Earth. Earlier this year, the same team discovered Goblin, or 2015 TG38, another extreme dwarf planet located at 80 AU. All objects, including FarFarOut, were unveiled by this team with the Japanese Subaru's 8-meter telescope located at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Other previously known remote sites include Eris at 96 AU and Pluto at 34 AU.
Image of FarFarOut, located between the yellow cross. Photo: Scott Sheppard / Carnegie Institute of Science
This trio of astronomers has been searching for the Keiper belt for years by conducting the largest and most profound research of the region. This search can lead to the discovery of the hypothetical Planet Nine, sometimes called Planet X, which is believed to exist because of the anomalous orientation of some objects in the outer parts of the Solar System. Planet X has not yet been discovered, but with each detection of other Styper belt objects, astronomers are closer to proving or refuting their existence.
"It's exciting to look in the sky that no one has ever seen as deep as we do," Shepard told Gizmodo. "To paraphrase Forrest Gump, every image we take is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you'll find."
The ability to detect objects at such extreme distances depends on the size of the object, said, and we should be able to see large objects, even if they are really far away. FarFarOut is about 250 miles (400 km) long, which is close to our current ability to locate objects at about 140 AU. Indeed, in the image showing FarFarOut, the subject looks like a dim light. If it was smaller, FarFarOut would probably have avoided the discovery, Shepard explained. That said, if objects larger than FarFarOut are above 140 AU, we must be able to find them.
"So far, in our study, we've covered about 25% of the sky, so there are probably a few larger objects even farther than FarFarOut that we should be able to find," Shepard said.
So far, the existence of this supposed end dwarf planet has not been conclusively proven. Shepard must see him again to confirm that he is actually there, and to confirm his orbit.
"We were just watching FarFarOut for a 24-hour base," he said. "These findings show that the subject is about 140 AU but can also be between 130 and 150 AU. We still do not know his orbit because we did not make the necessary follow-up observations. "
But while the snowstorm can be credited to motivate this discovery, the bad weather will now be a big hurdle. "I am currently in Chile on the Magellan telescope and we are now hoping for a good time in the next few days to watch this interesting site," he said.