139 “minor planets” discovered beyond Neptune
A team of astronomers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered 139 minor planets beyond Neptune, in our Solar System. These objects orbit the Sun. These are too small to be nominated as formal planets. But these can not be classified as rocks or space rocks either. The study is to be published in the Astrophysical Journal.
The most famous object beyond Neptune is Pluto. The objects beyond Neptune is called “trans-Neptunian Objects”. These discovered objects are in the Kuiper belt, which is a region in our Solar System that stretches beyond our system’s eight main planets. Kuiper belt extends about 50 astronomical units, that’s 50 times the distance between earth and sun. This is larger than the asteroid belt.
These discovered objects could be a great support in finding planet 9, the hypothetical 9th planet of the solar system. This is because scientists study the gravitational effect of planet 9 on the objects on the Kuiper belt and beyond Neptune.
“There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the solar system and aren’t there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet,” co-lead and UPenn professor Gary Bernstein said in a statement.
the Dark Energy Survey (DES) is an international collaborative effort to map galaxies. Launched in 2013, the team used its data to the discovery. The project has now collected six years of data. DES was not intended for research of Trans Neptune Objects. So the researchers had to improvise.
“Dedicated TNO surveys have a way of seeing the object move, and it’s easy to track them down,” lead author and graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli said in the statement. “One of the key things we did in this paper was to figure out a way to recover those movements.”
The team first found 7 billion possible objects detected by the system. They then cut down 22 million transient objects, which appear only for a limited time. They then observed the skies for 6 nights to reduce the possible objects for a no of 400. Through stacking images they discovered 316 objects. 245 already known, and 139 new ones.
The team wish to research further to find more objects, using other such available systems like the Vera C. Rubin ObserObservatory which is under construction in Chile. This observatory is capable of providing even more data than the DES.