Why this newly discovered pink dwarf planet is so exciting

Solar System distances to scale showing the newly discovered 2018 VG18

Farout: astronomers identify most distant known object in solar system

In October, the same group of researchers announced the discovery of another distant solar system object, called 2015 TG387 and nicknamed "The Goblin," because it was first seen near Halloween. Or to put it in Big Lebowski terms: "It's far out, man; far f%^#ing out".

The observations were reported today in a circular distributed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

Farout's obvious moniker comes from the fact that it's over three and a half times more distant from us than Pluto.

Discovery image of 2018 VG18 "Farout" from the Subaru Telescope on November 10, 2018. Its slow orbit probably takes more than 1,000 years to make one trip around the sun, the researchers said.

A team of astronomers have found the furthest known object in our solar system and they've nicknamed it "Farout".

Its brightness suggests that it is about 500 km in diameter, likely making it spherical in shape and a dwarf planet.

The discovery came about as the astronomers were searching for the hypothetical Planet X (also known as Planet 9), a massive planet believed by some to be orbiting the sun, well beyond Pluto, which is kicking asteroids and comets into unusual orbits. Farout orbits the sun at about 120 astronomical units (AU)-in other words, 120 times as far from the Sun as the Earth is.by comparison, Pluto is only about 30 to 50 AU, and the previous record holder, Eris, is about 96 AU.

The theoretical orbit of the theoretical Planet 9. Where will Farout's orbit fit in? Image Credit Caltech  R. Hurt
The theoretical orbit of the theoretical Planet 9. Where will Farout’s orbit fit in? Image Credit Caltech R. Hurt

Farout is around 120 astronomical units away from the sun, which is roughly 17,950,000,000km, so even if you were driving at 110km/h, it would still take you almost 19,000 years to get there (including breaks).

Why? As they observed it further, with more images of it captured by Northern Arizona University graduate student Will Oldroyd in early December, using the Magellan telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, they found that it was the most distant known object in the solar system!

Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, told GeekWire in an email that the discovery of Farout proves the value of the hunt for Planet X.

2018 VG18 is much more distant and slower moving than any other observed Solar System object, so it will take a few years to fully determine its orbit. The team doesn't know 2018 VG18's orbit very well yet, so they have not been able to determine if it shows signs of being shaped by Planet X, like they suspect the orbit of other objects has been. - Scott Sheppard, Carnegie Science Institute. The Goblin, for instance, has an extremely elongated orbit that suggests a large planet in the distant solar system could be interfering with it.

All that's known about Farout, at the moment, is its distance (120 AU), its size (around 500km across), and its colour (pink!). The new planet has a pinkish hue, which is a color associated with ice-rich objects.

"This discovery is truly an worldwide achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States", Trujillo said in a statement. "This would suggest Planet X pulled it out to this large distance".

Farout's orbit is yet to be determined.

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