Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed

Image used for representational purpose only

A team of astronomers recently spotted the farthest-known object in the solar system using a telescope atop Hawaii's lofty Mauna Kea, and announced the discovery on Monday. The discovery was made by Carnegie's Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii's David Tholen, and Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo.

Its pink shade indicates an ice-rich object. Farout is estimated to be 500 km (310 miles) in diameter, and to take more than 1,000 years to orbit the Sun. The object was observed a second time earlier this month at the Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

"This discovery is truly an worldwide achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States", Trujillo said in a statement.

The team has been searching for Planet X, a massive hypothetical planet far out in the Solar System, which could be affecting the orbits of smaller faraway objects. "With new wide-field digital cameras on some of the world's largest telescopes, we are finally exploring our Solar System's fringes, far beyond Pluto".

"It moves so slow, that it will take a few years to see enough motion of the object to determine its orbit around the Sun".

The existence of Planet X was first proposed by this same research team in 2014 when they discovered 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden, which is now near 84 AU away. In October, the same group of researchers announced the discovery of another distant Solar System object, called 2015 TG387 and nicknamed "The Goblin," because it was first seen near Halloween.

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Image: Scott S. Sheppard/David Tholen. Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Scott S. Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science.

The previous record-holder was the dwarf planet Eris at 96 astronomical units. One AU is equal to the average distance from the Earth to the sun, or just under 150m kilometres. Excitingly, given preliminary estimates about its size, it could actually be a dwarf planet-but it's still too small to qualify as the elusive Planet X.

The existence of a ninth major planet at the fringes of the Solar System was first proposed by this same research team in 2014 when they discovered 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden, which is now near 84 AU.

For a bit of context, Pluto is 34 AU away. In a 2016 paper, astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin presented evidence supporting the existence of this same unseen planet with the nicknames Planet X and Planet 9.

The orbits of several known outer solar system objects, shown skewed to the left of the above image, reveal the possible existence of a larger planet (perhaps a super-Earth) with an orbit on the other side of the solar system. The Kuiper belt ends at a distance of about 50 astronomical units, and the space beyond that was thought to be largely empty. Knowing a planet's orbit can tell us a great deal about its history and even hint at other worlds waiting to be discovered.

Farout orbits at an unusual angle, along with other so-called "trans-Neptunian objects".

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