Most distant object in solar system discovered


New Haven, Conn. -- NASA and a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Yale University and Gemini Observatory report the discovery of the most distant object in our solar system. Nearly the size of Pluto and more than three times as far away, it has been designated "2003 VB16" and unofficially named "Sedna."

The discovery was made on November 14, 2003, with a specially constructed detector mounted on the 48-inch-diameter telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. The "planetoid" was verified by telescopes in Spain, Arizona, Hawaii and Chile operated by the SMARTS (Small and Moderate Aperture Research Telescope System) Consortium, set up by Yale and 10 other U.S. institutions to provide access to small research telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope was unable to detect it at infrared wavelengths, confirming information about its nature and size as a cold object, smaller than Pluto and no more than 1,000 miles in diameter.

The discovery team consisted of Michael Brown at CalTech, David Rabinowitz at Yale, and Chad Trujillo at the Gemini Observatory.

The camera used by the team is one of the largest ever built. A single exposure covers a huge patch of sky, 40 times larger than the full moon. The group will be using this camera to repeat the search of the whole sky that discovered Pluto in 1930. This time, the search will be 100 times more sensitive. Charles Baltay, Professor of Applied Physics and Astronomy at Yale University built the camera, with over 160 million pixels and 112 CCD detectors, for the Samuel Oschin Schmidt telescope at Palomar. Other members of the construction team at Yale were David Rabinowitz, William Emmet, Tom Hurteau, Nancy Ellman, and Rochelle Lauer. Professor James Musser, Mark Gebhard, and Brice Adams designed the electronics at Indiana University.

"In reviewing the whole sky, we are finding some very big objects. This one might be about the size of Pluto, but much further away," said David Rabinowitz, research scientist in the department of physics at Yale, who helped design the camera. "The characteristics of this object are consistent with it residing in the 'Oort cloud,' a reservoir of long-period comets like Hale-Bopp that has been hypothesized since 1950."

This new body, three times farther from the sun than Neptune, is nearly 10 billion miles from the sun. Its orbit is elliptical in shape and ranges from roughly seven to 100 billion miles away from the sun.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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