The Solar System Just Gained Another Dwarf Planet

Pluto has another friend.

1. Today scientists announced that they have found a new dwarf planet in our solar system, orbiting much further out than Pluto.

Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

These images show the discovery of the new dwarf planet-like object, known by the catchy name of 2012 VP113 until it gains a more permanent one. They were taken about 2 hours apart on November 5, 2012. Scientists spotted the movement of the object as it stood out against the steady backdrop of stars and galaxies.

2. Its orbit crosses that of Sedna, a dwarf planet discovered ten years ago, but the new object spends most of its time even further away from us.

Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

The closest it gets to the sun is 80 times the distance between the sun and Earth, or about 12 billion kilometres. It’s thought the object is about 450 kilometres in diameter.

3. The discovery confirms that Sedna is not alone in the outer solar system.

Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

We may even need to rethink how we classify the different regions of the solar system. At the moment we have the inner rocky planets, including Earth; the gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn; and the Kuiper belt objects, icy remnants from the formation of the solar system that orbit further out than the gas giants.

But the discovery of this new body, along with Sedna, suggests that even more may be lurking beyond the Kuiper belt in the outer reaches of our solar system.

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