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New Dwarf Planet Found Beyond Pluto

Jul 12, 2016 03:34 AM EDT
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A new dwarf planet has been discovered out in the far reaches of the solar system, past Neptune and Pluto.

An image of the distant object was captured by the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS) in 2015, but it was not detected until Canadian astronomer JJ Kavelaars saw it in February 2016 among the OSSOS images collected by the Canada-France-Hawaii (CFH) Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii.

The CFH Telescope news blog quotes astronomer Michele Bannister, a member of the OSSOS team, saying, "The icy worlds beyond Neptune trace how the giant planets formed and then moved out from the Sun. They let us piece together the history of our Solar System. But almost all of these icy worlds are painfully small and faint: it's really exciting to find one that's large and bright enough that we can study it in detail."

The discovery has been designated "2015 RR245" by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. It joins Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Haumea and Makemake as the only six bodies officially recognized as dwarf planets by the IAU.

2015 RR245 was detected in the Kuiper Belt, a remote cloud of icy objects located far past Neptune. The new dwarf planet currently orbits even further away than Pluto, at an estimated distance of 7.5 billion miles away from the Sun. That means it will take around 700 years for 2015 RR245 to complete a single orbit. In 2096, it will reach its closest approach to the sun in, Space.com reports.

The OSSOS team estimated its size at 435 miles (700 km) across, making it smaller than Pluto. It is the 18th largest object found in the Kuiper Belt, according to the Minor Planet Center, the organization which is officially in charge of collecting and disseminating info about minor planets and comets.

A dwarf planet is Sun-orbiting body of rounded mass that has not cleared its orbital neighborhood of other, smaller objects. It is among the class of bodies that are known as minor planets, to which asteroids also belong.

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