Elusive piece of the formation of a planet less than a mile wide
The impression of the artist from the object the size of a kilometer. Image credit: Ko Arimatsu
The brave group of low-budget amateur astronomers conducted a real coup, finding the smallest object in the Kuiper Belt – a donut of ice objects circling in the outer solar system *.
The OASES team (organized auto-telescopes to study random events) placed a couple of small 28-cm (11-inch) telescopes on the roof of a school on Miyako Island, Japan. For 60 hours, they observed 2000 suns and watched a distinct drop in brightness, which occurs when an object briefly obscures the view of a star from Earth.
As a result, according to an article published in the journal Astronomy of Nature, they found the smallest known object in the Kuiper belt – a piece of material only 1.3 km wide (0.8 miles).
The Kuiper belt extends from the orbit of Neptune to about 50 AU. from our Sun and is home to millions of pieces of icy volatile substances and large pieces, including small planets – one of them is Pluto. The new 1.3 km object, seen by the coffins, is the first object belonging to the class of bodies with radii from one to 10 kilometers, predicted more than 70 years ago.
“This is a real victory for small projects,” said Ko Arimatsu, the first author of the study and researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
The clearest image of Ultima Thule still arrives on Earth, but grab a cup of coffee while the others download.
“Our team had less than 0.3% of the budget of large international projects. We didn’t even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope. However, we still managed to make a discovery, which is impossible for large projects. "
The solar system is full of tiny pieces of debris left over from a swirling protoplanetary disk that formed around our young Sun billions of years ago. Only a small part of these dust particles managed to thicken, forming planets.
Pluto, a dwarf planet with a radius of 1,187 km, is the largest object found so far in the belt. NASA researchers are currently exploring Ultim Thule, another interesting specimen about 10 miles across, consisting of two bodies caught in a collision.
This new finding suggests that the current theory of planetesimals, such as Ultima Thule and the new object, which are the building blocks of the planets, is probably true.
“Now that we know that our system is working, we will explore the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt in more detail. We are also focused on the Oort Cloud, which has not yet been discovered, ”said Arimatsu. ®