A pink dwarf planet was discovered more than seven billion miles from the sun in what was previously known as empty space. Along with Sedna, Eris, and Pluto, the revelation of this new planetoid is proof of how much about the solar system there is left to unravel.
Called 2012 VP113, the dwarf planet that measures 280 miles across was spotted in a similar fashion as Sedna in 2003, when their orbits were closest to the sun, allowing light to bounce off and reach observatories on earth. With each orbit taking almost 4,000 years to complete, it is thought to be composed of ice and rock, and the temperature of the pink planet is reported to be minus 430 degress Fahrenheit. The color itself is likely a result of its methane and carbon dioxide surface, according to scientists.
The planetoid was found by Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and Scott Shepherd of the Carnegie Institution in DC. In 2012, they used the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile to track the pink dwarf with an updated camera on the massive ground telescope.
The new planet takes its place among the farthest objects in the solar system, except that it has an eccentric orbit that takes it as far as 42 billion miles from the sun. Comparatively, at its furthest point Sedna reaches as far as 84 billion miles. With the shortest part of its elongated orbit stretching over four billion miles, 2012 VP113 opens further speculation about the evolution of the early solar system and how the interior planets formed.
Sedna, which has twice the diameter of 2012 VP113, was previously the only dwarf known to exist beyond the edge of the solar system. Named after the Inuit Goddess of the sea, it is also the only other object orbiting outside the Kuiper belt, which is a string of asteroids further from the sun than Neptune.
Pluto is a part of the Kuiper belt, and was taken off the list of planets after scientists came up with criteria that would designate their new discoveries in the region, partially due to the discovery of Eris. They decided that a planet must orbit the sun, have a round shape in hydrodynamic equilibrium, referring to the field of science that deals with fluids in motion compared to hydrostatic physics that deals with fluids at rest, and it must be gravitationally dominant enough to clear other orbiting bodies nearby. A planet must meet all three to be considered a planet, while a dwarf planet only has to meet one or two, and because of this Pluto was demoted.
Since the new pink dwarf is beyond the Kuiper belt as well as the scattered disc of asteroids, it is thought to be a part of the inner Oort cloud, which is an orb of icy planetesimals surrounding the entire solar system about a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun. The trans-Neptunian Kuiper belt is less than one thousandth of the distance to the Oort cloud.
After this new discovery near Pluto, the idea that there are more dwarf planets is enticing scientists into concluding that 2012 VP113 is not unique, and that there are likely thousands of similar objects floating in that region of space. Most interesting is the partial evidence concerning the hypothesis that there might be another large planet somewhere waiting to be discovered. Tyche or Planet X was theorized by Professors Daniel Whitmire and John Matese from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as an explanation as to why 20 percent of comets have higher angles of trajectory than predictive models suggest. With controversy surrounding the notion of an unknown celestial body up to four times the size of Jupiter, it is an enticing prospect, even if NASA’s WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) space telescope declared earlier this month that they had not yet found evidence to support it.
By Elijah Stephens