"This new object has the largest orbit of all the extremely distant objects that stay well beyond Pluto". Nicknamed "The Goblin" thanks to its discovery around Halloween 2015, 2015 TG387 takes 40,000 years to orbit the sun, researchers report online today on the preprint server arXiv. It takes about 40,000 years for a complete walk around the Sun (its year) and 99% of this time is too light to be seen from Earth. Pluto, meanwhile, is around 34 times as far from the Sun as Earth, so The Goblin really, really gets out there.
Astronomer David Tholen and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii made the discovery while searching for "Planet Nine" - also known as "Planet X" - a hypothetical massive planet suspected to be orbiting our sun, far beyond Pluto. 2015 TG387 is one of the few known objects that never comes close enough to the Solar System's giant planets, like Neptune and Jupiter, to have significant gravitational interactions with them. Led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, the astronomers were scanning broad swathes of the sky in search of faint glimmers that might betray new objects in the solar system.
Pluto, the erstwhile ninth planet in our solar system, was downgraded from planet to dwarf planet in 2006. At its farthest point, The Goblin is nearly 70 times as far away from the Sun as Pluto. "Currently we would only detect 2015 TG387 when it is near its closest approach to the Sun". The discovery of TG387 sent shock waves to the scientific community, as its very elliptical orbit around the Sun points to the possible existence of Planet X.
There's no doubt about it: the discovery of this far away dwarf planet is leading researchers closer and closer to finding out more than ever about what's in the furthest areas of the great beyond. "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.
"This new object does look like it's quite good for the Planet Nine theory", she said.
2015 TG387 is likely on the small end of being a dwarf planet since it has a diameter near 300 kilometers.
"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 in a statement.
"Despite centuries of surveys, our understanding of the solar system remains incomplete", he said. Observations using the Subaru Telescope led to the discovery of the mini-world known as The Goblin.
So if the Goblin is unaffected by the gas giant planets in our solar system, what contributes to its unusual orbit?
The findings were announced Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.
Planet X is thought to be four times the size of earth.
Researchers have spotted another distant dwarf planet in the outer solar system, and like the others it gives scientists more confidence that Planet Nine really does exist. "You can hide a very big thing in the outer solar system very easily".
The findings were submitted for publication to the Astronomical Journal. "These simulations do not prove that there's another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there", Trujillo said in a statement.
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