There’s something orbiting the sun, way, way beyond the distant realm of Pluto.
A team of astronomers recently spotted the farthest-known object in the solar system using a telescope atop Hawaii’s lofty Mauna Kea, and announced the discovery on Monday. The object, formally called “2018 VG18” but nicknamed “Farout,” orbits some 120 Astronomical Units from the sun. (One Astronomical Unit is the average distance between the Earth and the sun, which is about 93 million miles.)
The still largely-mysterious object is also 22 billion miles farther way than the second-most distant known object, another dwarf planet about the size of Pluto, called Eris.
“All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color,” David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. “Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.”
Tholen and company have identified that the object has a “pinkish hue,” is around 310 miles across, and is probably spherical — like Pluto.
This discovery of 2018 VG18, however, wasn’t made just by chance. These scientists have been scouring the deep solar system for such objects, including the suspected super-Earth-sized Planet X, or Planet 9, whose gravity may be pushing and pulling other distant objects in the far-off solar system.
“There could be another planet-sized object that is interfering with their orbits,” Elisabeth Adams, a scientist who researches dwarf planets and exoplanets at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an interview.
Researchers suspect that many of these big-bodied objects formed relatively close to the sun billions of years ago, simply because that’s where most of the “stuff” in the solar was located, said Adams.
But regardless of exactly how 2018 VG18 got kicked out to the extreme outer realms of the solar system, it’s a significant scientific discovery.
“It’s super cool — it makes our solar system bigger than it was before by a huge amount,” said Adams.
And there’s a good chance there’s many more of these distant, unknown objects out there.
“Odds are there is a lot more that we can’t see,” said Adams. “I would bet money on there being more, because we keep finding them in weird places.”