There might be another planet at the edge of our solar system

If you thought that Pluto was the gatekeeper of the outer edge of our solar system, your knowledge might need a massive update. Aside from comets that routinely orbit, and sometimes get too close, to our sun, there are a whole host of space objects beyond the little minor planet. And one of them might even be a planet in its own right. That is the discovery announced by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute of Washington last November 10. Simply called V774104, it is considered to be the most distant object in the solar system currently known.

V774104 is at a distance of 103 astronomical units or AU, the unit of distance corresponding to the distance of the earth to the sun. In comparison, Pluto's eccentric orbit takes from around 30 to 49 AU, sometimes actually ending up closer to the sun than Neptune. It was first discovered as a speck of light last month. But to be able to reflect light at that distance, it has to be somewhere around 500 to 1,000 km in diameter. That's less than the size of Pluto but still big enough to qualify as a planet.

Despite possibly a planet, it's not about to get added yet to the list of planets in the solar system, major or minor. Instead, V774104 is hoped to find its home in the Oort cloud, a wide band that extends up to 100,000 AU from the sun and is long believed to contain a treasury of knowledge about the history of the solar system. As well as lots of comets. Two other named objects in this cloud are Sedna and VP113, discovered in 2003 and 2012, respectively. These objects orbit the sun no closer than 50 AU, barely missing Pluto. Their behavior has so far remain unexplained by any known model used for existing orbits in the solar system.

V774104 isn't alone in the discovery, however. The team of astronomers also discovered about a dozen other objects, with distances ranging from 80 to 90 AU. They travel more slowly so the gathering of data about them is also slower. There is a possibility they can get thrown out of the solar system if they venture too near Neptune, but scientists hope they will stay to keep our planets company in the Oort cloud.

SOURCE: New Scientist