Published: Tue, December 18, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

‘Farout’: Astronomers spot solar system’s farthest known object

‘Farout’: Astronomers spot solar system’s farthest known object

To be clear: The record Farout now holds is for the most-distant solar system body ever observed. Or to put it in Big Lebowski terms: "It's far out, man; far f%^#ing out".

The discovery team nicknamed the object "Farout", and its provisional designation from the International Astronomical Union is 2018 VG18.

Farout's obvious moniker comes from the fact that it's over three and a half times more distant from us than Pluto.

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.

This animation is composed of the two "discovery images" of 2018 VG18 "Farout", taken an hour apart from the Subaru Telescope, on November 10, 2018.

"All that we now know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color", added Tholen "Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun".

Astronomers have spotted the farthest known object in our solar system - a dwarf planet they nicknamed "Farout".

It's an estimated 500 kilometres (310 miles) across.

Farout is 120 astronomical units (AU) from the sun - one AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, which is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).

The same team were responsible for the discovery this year of a minor planet nicknamed The Goblin, 80 AU away.

Solar system distances to scale showing the newly discovered 2018 VG18 nicknamed

© Solar System distances to scale showing the newly discovered 2018 VG18 "Farout" compared to other known Solar System objects.

Millions of solar system objects are much farther out than Farout, in a cometary halo known as the Oort Cloud.

The team will now investigate whether the orbit of "Farout" is shaped by the unseen Planet X.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Observations made with the Magellan telescope confirmed the distance of 120 AU.

"I said 'far out!' when I discovered it, and it's a very far out object", said astronomer Scott Shepard from the Carnegie Institution for Science, as quoted by New Scientist. Its brightness revealed that it's approximately 500km in diameter, making it a dwarf planet. The dwarf planet also has a pinkish hue likely caused by the object being rich in ice.

Trujillo hailed the global nature of the discovery, which involved telescopes in Hawaii and Chile owned and operated by Japan, and researchers based in the US.

Astronomers don't know much about Farout's physical characteristics because it's so faint. "This would suggest Planet X pulled it out to this large distance".

Astronomers do not yet have a good sense of VG18's orbit - whether it is elliptical and zooms inward near Neptune, or if it is more circular and always stays far away.

The search for Planet X has produced several related discoveries this year: "2015 TG387 (dubbed "The Goblin" as it was first seen near Halloween") is situated about 80AU distant.

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