Astronomers discover new dwarf planet and possible super-Earth in our Solar System

from For the longest time, the Solar
System was known to have nine planets. Eventually, Pluto got downgraded
to a dwarf planet due to the discovery of various other celestial bodies
found in the Solar System that were of similar size. Now, astronomers
have discovered another dwarf planet — dubbed 2012 VP113 and just 279.6
miles wide — orbiting the Sun.

However, astronomers noticed that
something seems out-of-place regarding its orbit, and speculate that the
incongruence could originate from a massive body influencing VP113′s
orbit — another planet, a super-Earth, that also orbits the Sun.

VP113 orbits the Sun at a
distance 80 times that of Earth from the Sun; it never gets closer than
7.4 billion miles (or 12 billion kilometers) from the Sun, and can reach
up to 41.6 billion miles (67 billion kilometers) away. The dwarf planet
has suffered from radiation damage, which changed the composition of
frozen water and carbon dioxide found on the surface, which gives the
the celestial body a pink hue. While it’s certainly interesting to discover a new dwarf planet
orbiting the Sun — especially one that extends the known boundary of
the Solar System — the potential super-Earth that would be effectively
messing up VP113′s orbit is the real gem of the discovery.

We don’t yet know if the
super-Earth actually exists, but the gravity of a planet about 10 times
the size of Earth would explain the irregular orbit of VP113. It might
seem strange that we can detect the relatively tiny VP113, but couldn’t
detect a planet 10 times the size of Earth, which would make it 280
times the size of the VP113. There are a couple of simple reasons this
could be. If it exists, the super-Earth is most likely much, much
farther away from Earth than VP113 — to the point where its larger size
is negated by its extreme distance. However, astronomers have looked
for large planets
located in the region in the past, and didn’t find anything. That
doesn’t mean that the planets aren’t there, though, as astronomers have
generally looked for the hot signatures of gas giants, rather than the
signatures of a more solid, cooler planet. Basically, astronomers might
have just been looking for the wrong thing. (Read: Alien spotting: By 2020, we’ll finally have the ability to locate life-harboring, alien planets.)

the area in which VP113 and this possible super-Earth are located has
been thought to be relatively boring — too close to have alien stars and
too far away to explore anyway — but the discovery of VP113 and its
potential orbit-affecting super-Earth would mean that, actually, there’s
a good chance some cool stuff is out there, closer than we think.

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