Astronomers announced the discovery of a new dwarf planet orbiting the sun in the region beyond Pluto Tuesday.
The new planet, dubbed 2014 UZ224, is more than 8.5 billion miles from the sun and has a diameter of about 330 miles.
Uz224 was discovered by Dr. David Gerdes, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan. Gerdes used an instrument called a Dark Energy Camera paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy to make maps of distant galaxies.
Gerdes used the camera to photograph small patches of the sky once per week. Stars and galaxies were so much further away than UZ224 that they appeared to be basically stationary. But the tiny planet was continually in a slightly different position as it was moving across the relatively stationary backdrop of stars.
“We often just have a single observation of the thing, on one night,” Gerdes told National Public Radio. “And then two weeks later one observation, and then five nights later another observation, and four months later another observation. So the connecting-the-dots problem is much more challenging.”
It took Gerdes two years to confirm the detection of 2014 UZ224, which could be the third most-distant object in the solar system. There are currently four other recognized dwarf planets in the solar system, but NASA suspects there could be over 100 such objects that haven’t yet been discovered.
Astronomers believe that a much larger “Planet X,” about 10 times the size of Earth could lie at the outer edge of our solar system. Such a planet would explain several extremely unusually phenomenon, potentially including the mysterious backwards orbiting of the dwarf planet Niku. Some scientists believe “Planet X’s” gravity may be tugging on NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting Saturn. No one has ever obtained any direct evidence of the planet.
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