New dwarf planet with ‘eccentric’ orbit unexpectedly discovered by astronomers2 min read

Large, looping orbit takes dwarf planet 700 years to travel around the sun

A team of astronomers has discovered a new dwarf planet, and they weren’t even trying to find one.

The dwarf planet, named 2015 RR245 for now, has an unusual orbit — it’s very large and looping, and takes 700 years to travel around the sun.

The researchers estimate that little 2015 RR245 is about 700 kilometres in diameter.

The Outer Solar System Origins Survey team, or OSSOS, led in part by researchers at the University of British Columbia, had originally set out to find out how the planets moved into their places when the solar system was young.

The newly discovered dwarf planet's elliptical orbit is seen in yellow. (Alex Parker/OSSOS Team)

The newly discovered dwarf planet’s elliptical orbit is seen in yellow. (Alex Parker/OSSOS Team)

They’ve been studying objects in the Kuiper belt, the outer region of our solar system. During their research, they found this new dwarf planet, said Brett Gladman, the Canada Research Chair in planetary astronomy at UBC and the principal investigator for the project.

When they found what they suspected was the dwarf planet, Gladman said the reaction was “Whoa, there’s a bright one!”

Unlike regular planets, which “completely dominate their surroundings,” said Gladman, a dwarf planet is not large enough to exert much influence, but it is big enough that gravity pulls it into a sphere shape.

The international team also includes researchers from the University of Victoria, Tucson, Ariz., France and Taiwan.

Telescope in Hawaii

Gladman and his team have been working with a tool that is incredibly sensitive to light, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, located at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The telescope looks for bright, moving objects in space, and a camera takes pictures of what it sees every hour.

Because the telescope records massive amounts of data, the team had to make a program to sift through the photos. Once the program has what Gladman calls candidates of moving objects, the researchers take over and look at the images themselves.


Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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