Astronomers discover solar system's farthest object

Gwen Vasquez
December 18, 2018

Discovered by the big-time eggheads at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, Farout (formally known as 2018 VG18) is believed to be the most distant body in our solar system, orbiting the sun at a distance approximately 120 times further out than the Earth.

They claim that it will take several years to study Farout, but they have already found that it has an unusual orbit similar to that of other extreme objects lurking in the outskirts of the Solar System.

Farout was first observed on November 10, 2018 by astronomers using the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. They also suggest that the planet is roughly spherical and is about 500km in diameter.

"All that we now know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color", said David Tholen, one of the discoverers and an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, according to the statement.

Artist's concept of 'Farout'. Pic Roberto Candanosa  CIS
Image The dwarf planet is extremely distant from the Sun. Pic Roberto Candanosa CIS

Farout's discovery comes less than two months after the discovery of "The Goblin", another distant object in the solar system (about 80 AU from the sun) that astronomers first identified around Halloween. If VG18 is indeed that large, it would likely be massive enough for gravity to pull it into a round shape and fulfill the definition of a "dwarf planet", the same category that includes the asteroid Ceres and the former planet Pluto. NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft recently entered interstellar space at about 120 AU, leaving the sun's "sphere of influence" called the heliopause, where bodies experience the solar wind. Neptune is 30 astronomical units away, or 2.8 billion miles, and Pluto, now on the outward leg of its orbit, is 34.5 astronomical units, or 3.2 billion miles from the sun. It has a pinkish hue, a color generally associated with ice-rich objects.

Farout and other distant bodies seem to move in a odd harmony best explained by the existence of an as-yet-unseen massive planet beyond Neptune in the Solar System. The team hasn't determined 2018 VG18's orbit activity yet, so they can't tell if its movements are potentially shaped by Planet X, a suspected planet that's called "Planet 9" and is located really far from the sun. Farout is one such unexpected prize from the the search.

The object was found by the Carnegie Institution for Science's Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii's David Tholen and Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo - and it's not their first discovery. "But it was found in a similar location in the sky to the other known extreme solar system objects, suggesting it might have the same type of orbit that majority do".

This image provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows an artist's concept of a dwarf planet that astronomers say is the farthest known object in our solar system, which they have nicknamed 'Farout'. The same team spotted a faraway dwarf planet nicknamed "The Goblin" in October. The previous furthest known object was Eris, 96 AU from the sun. "If its orbit never brings it into the giant planet region in our Solar System, then it becomes a big question of how it got out there". Their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth.

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