Astronomers have identified a new dwarf planet candidate in our solar system.
Astronomers from the University of Michigan have identified a new dwarf planet orbiting in the outer reaches of our solar system. The new object, called 2014 UZ224, is the farthest dwarf planet observed to date.
2014 UZ224 was discovered by a team of astronomers led by David Gerdes, who developed the Dark Energy Camera that is used by the Department of Energy to search for distant galaxies.
Back in 2014, he tasked a group of undergraduates with using the images produced by the Dark Energy Camera to look for distant objects in our own solar system. Essentially, by comparing images of the same area taken over several days or weeks, nearby objects can be spotted as moving points against the still background of distant galaxies. This was how the team found 2014 UZ224, a single moving dot against a backdrop of the great expanse.
2014 UZ224 is one of the outermost dwarf planets astronomers have discovered so far. It orbits the Sun with an average distance of 8.5 billion miles, more than twice as far away as Pluto. It takes more than a thousand years for it to orbit the Sun once.
This new dwarf planet is an important discovery in its own right, but it could also help in the search for the hypothesized Planet Nine, suspected to be orbiting somewhere beyond Pluto.
The only evidence of Planet Nine’s existence comes from clues in the orbits of other objects in the area. If Planet Nine does exist, its gravitational pull would subtly influence the orbital paths of other solar system objects like 2014 UZ224.
By learning more about 2014 UZ224, astronomers hope to uncover more evidence for the existence of Planet Nine, and maybe even narrow down its location.
Sherri E. White