A newly-discovered astronomical body, object V774104 is likely a dwarf planet and has sparked fresh speculation about the existence of Planet X. Astronomers have identified V774104, 15.5 billion kilometers from our Sun, as the most-distant known object in our solar system.
Discovery of V774104, according to astronomers, gives additional evidence in support of the belief there is a large astronomical body, the mysterious Planet X, possibly a dark “super-Earth,” lurking undetected in the outer edges of our solar system.
Discovery of V774104 was announced by Scott Sheppard, with the Carnegie Institute, on Wednesday, November 10 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences held at National Harbor, Maryland.
Astronomers Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo discovered V774104 using the 8 m Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the Dark Energy Survey Camera in Chile.
V774104 was discovered along with several other objects about 80 to 90 AU from the Sun, believed to be part of the Kuiper Belt. But, the researchers believe that V774104 is part of the Inner Oort Cloud far beyond the Kuiper Belt.
According to Sheppard, V774104 is likely a dwarf planet between 300 miles (480 kilometers) and 600 miles (965 kilometers) in diameter, about the size of Ceres, a dwarf planet identified as the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is about 103 astronomical units (15 billion kilometers or 9.6 billion miles) from the Sun, which makes it the most distant trans-Neptunian (TNO) object known in our solar system, farther than Eris, Sedna and 2012 VP113.
Until the discovery of V774104, Eris was the most-distant object known in our solar system.
The team of researchers is still working to determine the details of V774104’s orbital trajectory, including the value for its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) and its aphelion (farthest orbital distance from the Sun).
“We don’t know anything about its orbit. We just know it’s the most distant object known.”
Although the researchers have yet to determine its perihelion, they believe it has a long orbital period and a perihelion greater than 50 AU – that is, it belongs to a special class of objects known as Sednoids. These are trans-Neptunian objects whose orbital paths (>50 AU) exist entirely outside the Kuiper Belt (30-50 AU) and extend into the Inner Oort Cloud.
There are presently only two confirmed Sednoids, namely Sedna and 2012 VP113. This class of bodies is of special interest to astronomers because their highly-elongated orbits are suggestive of the gravitational influence of a large undiscovered body in the outer fringes of our solar system. Observations of the elliptical orbits of Sednoids form the basis of the suggestion that there could be an undiscovered planetary mass about the size of Neptune or Uranus in the outer reaches of our solar system.
“This object could be extremely interesting if it doesn’t come much closer than where it is right now, or it could be another typical scattered Kuiper belt object,” Sheppard said.
He added, “If the orbit turns out to be an orbit that stays far away from the giant planet region, it’s an orbit that’s unperturbed by the orbit of the discovered giant planets. So we can look to see if this orbit falls in line with what we’d expect for the orbit of this hypothetical giant planet out there.”
The discovery of V774104, which researchers believe will extend the special class of objects called Sednoids, further strengthens the belief among astronomers about the existence of a large and unknown dark planetary mass — Planet X — in the outer fringes of our solar system, whose gravitational tug explains the highly elliptical orbits of the Sednoids.
Astronomers believe it is unlikely that Planet X could be comparable in size to Saturn. They believe it is more likely comparable in size to Neptune. Others believe that instead of a single large planetary mass there could be two “dark super-Earths.”
An alternative theory explaining the elongated orbits of the Sednoids is that they were tugged into their present positions under the gravitational influence of a star that passed close to our solar system early in the history of its evolution and formation.
Astronomers insist there are no scientifically consistent explanations of the orbits of V774104 and other Sednoids — Sedna and 2012 VP113 — other than the theories that they are due to the gravitational influence of a single large unseen dark planetary mass or two dark “super Earths,” or a wandering star that passed close to our solar system million of years ago.
Alternatively, they could be bodies left behind by a wandering star that passed close to our system.
It is also possible that Planet X — like the hypothetical wandering star — is no longer part of the solar system and that it pulled the Sednoids into their current elliptical orbits as it was being ejected from our solar system long ago.
Commenting on the significance of the discovery of V774104, Dr. Luke Davis, with the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research, said, “How this object got there is a mystery. Were they flung out by an as yet undetected larger object? Is that larger object even still in our system? Or were they left behind as another star system whizzed by our local neighborhood?”
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