Astronomers discover new distant object in the solar system

Dwarf Planet Announcement Revives 'Planet X' Conspiracy

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Astronomers have discovered what appears to be a miniature planet that is the most distant body ever found in the solar system, scientists said on Wednesday.

"We can't really classify the object yet, as we don't know its orbit," said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. "We only just found this object a few weeks ago."

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Based on its reflectivity, scientists believe the icy body, known as V774101, is between 300 and 600 miles (500 to 1,000 km) in diameter, roughly half the size of Pluto. It is almost 10 billion miles from Earth, or three times farther away than Pluto.

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Astronomers discover new distant object in the solar system
IN SPACE - JANUARY 14: The planet Mercury is shown from a distance of approximately 17,000 miles, taken by NASA's Messenger spacecraft January 14, 2008 at the spacecraft's closest approach to planet. The image shows features as small as six miles in width. Similar to previously mapped portions of Mercury, this hemisphere appears heavily cratered. On the upper right is the giant Caloris basin, including its western portions never before seen by spacecraft. Formed by the impact of a large asteroid or comet, Caloris is one of the largest, and perhaps one of the youngest basins in the solar system. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)
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This true-color simulated view of Jupiter is composed of 4 images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on December 7, 2000. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
This composite includes the four largest moons of Jupiter which are known as the Galilean satellites. Shown from left to right in order of increasing distance from Jupiter, Io is closest, followed by Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Galileo. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The sponge-like surface of Saturn's moon Hyperion is highlighted in this Cassini portrait. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The Cassini spacecraft examines the rough dark-light dichotomy of the terrain on Saturn's moon Iapetus. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
NASA's Cassini spacecraft chronicles the change of seasons as it captures clouds concentrated near the equator of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The Cassini spacecraft looks at a brightly illuminated Enceladus and examines the surface of the leading hemisphere of this Saturnian moon. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)


(Photo: NASA)


(Photo: Getty)


Currently, the most distant planet-like bodies in the solar system are Sedna, discovered in 2003, and VP113, discovered in 2012. At more than 80 times farther from the sun than Earth, the two are still closer than V774101, which is currently 103 times more distant from the sun than Earth.

Sheppard said it will take a year of observations to determine if V774101 travels into Pluto's neighborhood, a region beyond Neptune known as the Kuiper Belt. This swath of space, which contains thousands of tiny planets, is 40 to 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth.

"If it never gets near Neptune that would make the object very interesting as its orbit would be unperturbed by the giant planets and thus allow us to understand the dynamics of the outer solar system," Sheppard wrote in an email.

Sheppard is part of team that is conducting the most extensive search for distant bodies in the solar system.

"It is very much like looking for a needle in a haystack as the night sky covers a very large area that can only be searched one telescope pointing at a time," Sheppard said.

The discovery was unveiled at an American Astronomical Society planetary sciences meeting in Maryland this week.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Karen Brooks and Steve Orlofsky)

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