Archive for the ‘Dwarf planets’ Tag

Pretty in Pink At The Edge Of The Galaxy   38 comments


Far away in the celestial wastelands at the outer edge of our Solar System further out even than Pluto, lies a lone dwarf planet going by the name of Sedna.


Conspicuously red and shiny and boasting the sharing of its name with an Inuit goddess who according to mythology was the creator of the Arctic’s sea life, Sedna was likely enjoying its privileged position of unique lonesomeness. Having enjoyed this status since it was first discovered in 2003 it may not however have been quite so impressed to learn that it had company!


Ever so slightly freezing cold at approximately -430 degrees F and very pretty in pink, dwarf planet 2012 VP113 lies 7 ½ billion miles from Earth’s sun (Earth lies at 93 million miles from its sun); although when it suits, it has the capacity to swing out to as far as 42 billion miles from our Sun; this is due to it’s having what is technically known as an “eccentric and elongated orbit.” Not to be outdone by its fainter pink neighbour Sedna can swagger out up to double this distance at 84 billion miles from the sun.


Frozen pink world, VP113 is also a very small dwarf planet at only 280 miles in diameter meaning that Sedna can at least enjoy the satisfaction of being twice the size; although Earth dwarfs them both with a 7,900 miles diameter .VP113 is not at all shiny and therefore despite being very, very pretty in pink was extremely difficult for astronomers to spot. Hence its existence remained unknown until 2012 when it was discovered by the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory telescope based in Chile.

So what exactly is so fascinating about a faint, frozen pink dwarf planet somewhere out in the farthest reaches of the solar system?

Basically it is likely there are many more such worlds to be found in this remote region of the solar system just waiting to be found. Scientists hope that they will, as a collective, shed light on the formation of both the new worlds such as VP113 and also our Solar System.


Associated Press

Agence France-Presse

Snow White And The Frozen Dwarf   27 comments


Snow White – World of Ice and Methane

Snow White (Photo Credit: NASA)US Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered that the dwarf planet 2007 OR10 known as Snow White –once a small volcanically active world firing slushy water ice from ancient volcanoes, and boasting an atmosphere, is today an icy, frozen, dead world, tinged red and enveloped in a thin layer of methane that is slowly slipping away to be lost into space.

Snow White — orbits the sun at the edge of the solar system and is about half the size of Pluto, making it the fifth largest dwarf planet. Part of a larger group of icy bodies called Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).Ironically Snow White has actually proved to be one of the reddest objects in the solar system.

However last autumn using a newly designed instrument called the Folded-port Infrared Echellette (FIRE), with the 6.5-meter Magellan Baade Telescope in Chile, Adam Burgasser, a former graduate student and now a professor at UC San Diego, and Wesley Fraser, postdoctoral scholar were shocked to find out although Snow White was indeed red, it’s surface was also covered in water ice.

“Water ice is not red! Although ice is common in the outer solar system, it’s almost always white~ Mike Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and professor of planetary astronomy.

One other dwarf planet that shares these characteristics is Quaoar, discovered in 2002. Slightly smaller than Snow White, Quaoar is still big enough to have had an atmosphere and a surface covered with volcanoes that sent-up and slush and ice, which as with Snow White flowed over the surface before freezing solid.

But smaller than dwarf planets like Pluto or Eris, it was unable to hold onto volatile methane, carbon monoxide, or nitrogen compounds as long. And two billion years after its formation Quaoar inevitably began to lose its atmosphere to space; now, and today all that remains is the space-irradiated methane which rests on the icy surface Quaoar’s, giving it a glowing reddish hue.

It is clear from indications on the spectrum of Snow White 2007 OR10 which clearly shows the presence of water ice that it too for the last ½ billion years it has followed in the footsteps of Quaoar, still and silent amongst the stars, slowly losing its atmosphere into space until now only a small part remains."

The existence of methane is still open to debate. But the use of a large telescope such as the Keck Observatory will show clearly whether methane exists on Snow White or not. If this proves to be so it will join Quaoar as one of only two dwarf planets that bridge the gap between the tiny selection of entities large enough to hold onto hazardous composites, and the smaller entities that constitute the vast majority of KBOs.