An exciting discovery has been made this week in our galaxy. A new dwarf planet has been located in our solar system. It has temporarily been named VP113. Astronomers believe that the presence of this dwarf planet indicates that there could be hundreds more, and some of them might even be bigger than our planet Earth. This dwarf planet is very cold and full of ice, since it is so far away from the sun. In fact, it is so far away, it takes the planet 4,000 years to make one full rotation around the sun. It is 19 times farther away from the sun than Pluto.
Scientists have located this dwarf planet VP113 very far out in our solar system, but think that it may have originally been closer to us and has been pulled out farther by another star or planet who was passing by our galaxy. The dwarf planet is about 280 miles wide and covered in ice. As of now, there is no other known planet in our solar system that is farther away from the sun.
Even though the dwarf planet VP113 is very far away, it is not far enough to be part of the Oort cloud. The Oort cloud is a spherical shape that is 5,000 to 100,000 astronomical units away from the sun and was thought to be empty, but in reality, it could be housing thousands of these huge ice planets, many bigger than the size of Earth. Scientists started to realize that this area was not empty when they discovered the Sedna in 2003. The Sedna’s size was large enough to qualify it as a dwarf planet, so scientists had to rethink their theories. They were left wondering if the Sedna was an anomaly, or if there were more dwarf planets like it.
Researches decided to dedicate time to find other dwarf planets, but looking for such far away objects is not easy. These huge ice balls do not make their own light, as stars do, so astronomers were forced to watch for a reflection of light coming from the sun and bouncing off these dark planets. The sunlight needed to travel across this far distance and then the reflection of light had to travel all the way back to Earth. This process took many months of analysis, but finally a dim light was detected.
Scott Sheppard is an astronomer who works at the Carnegie Institution of Science and it was he who located the dwarf planet VP113 in our solar system. He describes it as the slowest moving object he had ever seen and that piqued his interest. He also explains that it is curious that the dwarf planet VP113 and Sedna are making their approach to the sun at very similar angles, and this could indicate that there is another giant ghost planet with them who’s gravity is pulling them the same way. Astronomers are excited about this possibility and are motivated to locate even more dwarf planets.
By Sara Petersen