Scientists discovered a pink dwarf planet at the edge of the solar system, long thought to be a celestial no-man’s land. The object, officially called 2012 VP-113, is nicknamed “Biden” in jest after incumbent US Vice President Joe Biden.
The dwarf planet was found by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory through the use of a new camera affixed to a telescope mounted in Chile. Biden is described as a “pink ice ball” because temperatures on it are estimated to reach around minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a diameter of 280 miles and is 7.5 billion miles from the sun, making a year on Biden 4000 times longer than one on Earth. At its farthest, Biden can reach 42 billion miles from the sun.
Animation of dwarf planet in orbit
For decades, scientists thought the area beyond the Kuiper belt, of which Pluto is part of, was deserted. In 2003, the dwarf planet Sedna was discovered, but was initially considered an outlier. The discovery of Biden dramatically changes things. Sedna is not just accompanied—there may be hundreds of other objects out there.
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) astronomer and Sedna co-discoverer Mike Brown shares how he initially thought finding Sedna was possibly a fluke, but the new find confirms the area may be populated after all.
Calculations based on new data brought by Biden’s discovery reveal that there are possibly 900 other celestial bodies in the area waiting to be found.
— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) March 26, 2014
Scientists also observed patterns in Sedna’s and Biden’s orbits, which point to the existence of a massive body nearby. This planet is estimated to be ten times the size of Earth and up to a thousand times as far from the sun. Brown comments that the new discovery shows that there are regions of the solar system that we barely know anything about.
The immense distance has made it difficult for these celestial bodies to be found. Few of the objects will be visible to today’s telescopes because they do not emit their own light and it takes thousands of years for them to get closest to the sun.
Sedna and Biden were both found at their closest approach to the sun, which made light from the sun bounce off their surfaces and allowed them to be seen from Earth’s observatories. Astronomers are hoping that new technology will facilitate the search for answers in our solar system.
Image via YouTube