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Japanese astronomers have discovered a new class of objects in the Kuiper belt.



The impression of the artist from the newly discovered object.
The impression of the artist from the newly discovered object.

A team from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan discovered a new class of objects that, as they long thought, exist in the Kuiper belt on the outskirts of the solar system. This is a small body on a scale of several kilometers.

This newly discovered object has a radius of 2.6 km and a body with a radius of 1.3 km at the edge of the solar system.

Scientists have discovered an object using a proven transit method — essentially, observing the stars and waiting for the object’s shadow as it passes between the star and the Earth. Since this time can be difficult to determine, researchers sorted out it, controlling about 2000 stars for 60 hours, using two small 28-cm (11-inch) telescopes mounted on the roof.

The Edgeworth-Kuiper belt is a collection of small celestial bodies located beyond the orbit of Neptune. The most famous object of the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt is Pluto. Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt Objects are believed to be remnants of the formation of the solar system.

While small bodies, such as asteroids in the inner solar system, have been altered by solar radiation, collisions, and the gravity of the planets over time; objects in the cold, dark, lonely belt of Edgeworth-Kuiper retain the primordial conditions of the early solar system. Thus, astronomers study them to learn about the beginning of the process of forming the planet.

However, this is the first object in its class that was discovered in the Kuiper belt, in rocky and icy wreckage, extending beyond Neptune. This discovery indicates that Edgeworth-Kuiper belt objects are more kilometers than previously thought.

In addition, this discovery supports models in which planetesimals initially grow slowly into objects about the size of a kilometer before unbridled growth forces them to merge with the planets.

Ko Arimatsu from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan said: “This is a real victory for small projects. Our team had less than 0.3% of the budget for large international projects. We didn't even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope! And yet we managed to make a discovery that is impossible for large projects. Now that we know our system is working, we will look at the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt in more detail. We also target the still unexplored Oort Cloud.

This study appeared in Nature Astronomy (Advanced Online Publication) on January 28, 2019.


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