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Astronomers Baffled by a Mysterious Object Lurking Beyond Neptune

Aug 13, 2016 10:52 PM EDT
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A newly discovered object lurking beyond Neptune is baffling scientist due to its unusual orbit.

With only about 200 kilometers in diameter, the object, which appears to be a chunk of ice, is qualified to be in the lowest threshold of objects that might be considered as dwarf planets. Such objects are common in Kuiper Belt, an area in the solar system that stretches out for billions of miles past Neptune.

Beside its appearance, the newly discovered Trans-Neptunian Object is called Nitu due to its "rebellious" orbit. Nitu is spinning in the opposite direction of the other objects in our solar system. Furthermore, Nitu orbits in a plane that is tilted 110 degrees to the plane of the solar system.

"Angular momentum forces everything to have that one spin direction all the same way," explained Michele Bannister, an astronomer at Queens University, Belfast, in a report from New Scientists. "It's the same thing with a spinning top, every particle is spinning the same direction."

According to the report from Astronomy, Mercury is the most inclined planet in our solar system at seven degrees above the ecliptic. On the other hand, dwarf planets such as Pluto and Eris are 17 degrees and 44 degrees above the ecliptic respectively. Asteroids, comets and other smaller objects in our solar system usually have inclined orbits. However, Niku can be considered to one of the largest object in such orbit.

In a report from Huffington Post, astronomers are constructing theories how Nitu got its unusual orbit and backward spin. One of the theories proposed by the astronomers is the possibility that some other object knocked Nitu off course.

The discovery was made using the Pan-STARSS in Hawaii, Pan-STARSS is a system of telescope and cameras created to detect near-Earth objects.

Their observation, published in the journal arXiv, showed that Nitu seems to be part of a cluster of other related objects and icy planetoids with similar orbits.

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