Scientists Discover New Dwarf Planet

Friday, October 14, 2016 - 13:10

Scientists have identified a new dwarf planet looping around the sun in the region beyond Pluto.

According to Science Alert, the dwarf planet, called 2014 UZ224, measures about 330 miles (530 kilometers) across and is located about 8.5 billion miles (13.7 billion km) from the sun and could soon join the ranks of the five established dwarf planets in the Solar System: Ceres, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and most famous of all, Pluto.

UZ224 was pinpointed in an enormous map of galaxies created by a project called the Dark Energy Survey (DES) in 2014 by a team of undergraduate students led by physicist David Gerdes from the University of Michigan.

Dark Energy Survey is using observations from the DECam to create a map of the universe that provides information relevant to the study of dark energy. The DES maps have already been used to study dark matter (which makes up about eighty percent of all the mass in the universe but whose exact nature is still a mystery) and to find previously unidentified objects.

A few years ago, Gerdes asked some visiting undergraduates to look for unidentified solar system objects in the galaxy map, according to NPR. The challenge was slightly difficult because the repeated observations would take place at irregular intervals, Gerdes said, but the students developed computer software to work with the irregularities and spot moving objects.

It took two years to confirm the detection of 2014 UZ224, NPR reports, and while its exact orbital path is still unclear, the scientists behind the discovery say they think that 2014 UZ224 is the third most-distant object in the solar system.

The discovery has now been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, but whether or not it will decide to let 2014 UZ224 join the ranks of the five established dwarf planets in our Solar System is another matter.

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