The most-distant body ever observed in our Solar System has been discovered by a team of astronomers. The object has been temporarily called 2018 VG18, it is is more than 100 times farther than Earth is from the Sun.
Scott S Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, David Tholen of the University of Hawaii and Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University made the incredible discovery which they announced on the 17th December.
The object has already been given the nickname “Farout” by the discovery team for its extremely distant location.
Distant object dubbed ''Farout"
They have located Farout to be about 120 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is defined as the distance between the Earth and the Sun. To give that figure some context the second-most-distant observed Solar System object is Eris, at about 96 AU and Pluto is about 34 AU.
The team that discovered VG18 has been searching for extremely distant Solar System objects for some time. Their work has been focused on looking for the suspected Planet X, sometimes known as Planet 9.
In October the group announced the discovery of another distant Solar System object, called 2015 TG387 and nicknamed “The Goblin.”
The Goblin, named because it was discovered near Halloween was about 80 AU when it was discovered and has an orbit that could indicate it is being influenced by an Earth-sized Planet on the Solar System’s very distant fringes.
“2018 VG18 is much more distant and slower moving than any other observed Solar System object, so it will take a few years to fully determine its orbit,” said Sheppard.
“But it was found in a similar location on the sky to the other known extreme Solar System objects, suggesting it might have the same type of orbit that most of them do.
The orbital similarities shown by many of the known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects.
All that we currently 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.”
The initial discovery images of 2018 VG18 were taken at the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope situated on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii on November 10, 2018.
Astronomers worked together across the globe
The object needed to be observed a second time to be validated and was seen by the Magellan telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile in early December.
The team there spent a week observing the object and determining its basic physical properties such as brightness and color.
"This discovery is truly an international achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States,” concluded Trujillo.
"With new wide-field digital cameras on some of the world’s largest telescopes, we are finally exploring our Solar System’s fringes, far beyond Pluto.”