Space

Dwarf planet lurking beyond Neptune's orbit is far larger than expected

Dwarf planet lurking beyond Ne...
The new study made use of data from both the Kepler and Herschel space telescopes
The new study made use of data from both the Kepler and Herschel space telescopes
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The new study made use of data from both the Kepler and Herschel space telescopes
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The new study made use of data from both the Kepler and Herschel space telescopes

According to a team of astronomers making use of data from two powerful orbital telescopes, a dwarf planet known as 2007 OR10 orbiting in the far reaches of our solar system is significantly larger than previously believed. The results of the study makes the little-known planetoid the third largest dwarf planet behind Pluto and Eris.

Previous observations of 2007 OR10 using only infrared data from the Herschel telescope had estimated the dwarf planet to have a diameter of around 795 miles (1,280 km). However, these readings were taken without knowledge of 2007 OR10's rotational period, which is a key variable needed for astronomers to extrapolate the size of a heavenly body.

Without this key variable, the light detected by a telescope could lead to incorrect estimations of a planetoid's size, as was the case with 2007 OR10. A smaller body with a brighter surface could potentially appear larger than a darker, much larger dwarf planet.

The new research paired infrared readings collected by Herschel with visible light data harvested by the Kepler spacecraft, which was tasked with observing 2007 OR10 for a continuous period of 19 days in late 2014. The combination of the data sets allowed astronomers to deduce a number of characteristics of the distant planetoid.

It is now estimated that 2007 OR10 boasts a diameter of 955 miles (1,535 km), and takes an impressive 45 hours to complete a day cycle. The researchers believe that the surface of 2007 OR10 is coated with methane ices, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, which would likely bestow the planetoid with a dark reddish hue.

The increase in size of 2007 OR10 has also increased the expected gravitational influence of the planet, meaning that it could be capable of holding on to the above materials where a smaller planetoid would have lost them to space over time.

Now that we know a little more about 2007 OR10, it's probably time that it be given a more catchy name. As is tradition, the honor of naming the dwarf planet will go to its discoverers, Meg Schwamb, Mike Brown, and DavidRabinowitz.

"The names of Pluto-sized bodies each tell a story about the characteristics of their respective objects. In the past, we haven't known enough about 2007 OR10 to give it a name that would do it justice," comments Schwamb. "I think we're coming to a point where we can give 2007 OR10 its rightful name."

A paper on the research can be found online in the Astronomical Journal.

Source: NASA

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1 comment
DianaLangie
I will begin by saying I do not doubt the competence of ESA researchers in the slightest. I am epecially impressed by the agency after the ESA promised to land a spacecraft on a breakneck asteroid, without crashing the craft, by 2014 before a prototype blueprint had so much as been printed. I waited patiently for the announcement that it would take a bit longer before the craft was ready as the months rolled along into 2014. The ESA certainly showed me what's what. Lo and behold, much more was accomplished, I'd say, than the initial promise, for not only was the craft built without error- despite being the first of its kind- but the mission was a beautiful success, completed right on time, and -brace yourself- under budget! A complimentary nod was never more well-earned. However, unlike ESA researchers, I am not an astrophysicist. Yet as soon as I read, "Previous observations of 2007 OR10 using only infrared data from the Herschel telescope had estimated the dwarf planet to have a diameter of around 795 miles (1,280 km)," in Mr. Wood's article, all that followed was already clear to me. After all, I hear it's chilly out beyond Neptune, and my first thought was that a lot of IR wavelengths would not reflect off 2007 OR10 to make it back to the Herschel's sensors. I wondered why IR measurements were thought to be sufficient to approximate the dwarf planet's size in the first place. It's not as if a celestial body is mammalian...?
Finally, haven't we discussed about a gajillion times that Neptune's otherwise inexplicable inconsistent-appearing orbit indicates the presence of multiple sizeable planetoids beyond Pluto? It's been said, and with some confidence at the very least, that masses unseen must exist on the edge of our Solar System because their gravitational fields are just barely perceptible as affecting Neptune's motions.