Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Most Distant Object In Solar System Discovered

Date:
March 16, 2004
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA-funded researchers have discovered the most distant object orbiting Earth's Sun. The object is a mysterious planet-like body three times farther from Earth than Pluto.

In this artist's visualization, the newly discovered planet-like object, dubbed "Sedna," is shown where it resides at the outer edges of the known solar system. The object is so far away that the Sun appears as an extremely bright star instead of a large, warm disc observed from Earth. All that is known about Sedna's appearance is that it has a reddish hue, almost as red and reflective as the planet Mars. In the distance is a hypothetical small moon, which scientists believe may be orbiting this distant body.
Credit: Image NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA-funded researchers have discovered the most distant object orbiting Earth's Sun. The object is a mysterious planet-like body three times farther from Earth than Pluto.

Related Articles


"The Sun appears so small from that distance that you could completely block it out with the head of a pin," said Dr. Mike Brown, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., associate professor of planetary astronomy and leader of the research team. The object, called "Sedna" for the Inuit goddess of the ocean, is 13 billion kilometers (8 billion miles) away, in the farthest reaches of the solar system.

This is likely the first detection of the long-hypothesized "Oort cloud," a faraway repository of small icy bodies that supplies the comets that streak by Earth. Other notable features of Sedna include its size and reddish color. After Mars, it is the second reddest object in the solar system. It is estimated Sedna is approximately three-fourths the size of Pluto. Sedna is likely the largest object found in the solar system since Pluto was discovered in 1930.

Brown, along with Drs. Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., found the planet-like object, or planetoid, on Nov. 14, 2003. The researchers used the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Within days, telescopes in Chile, Spain, Arizona and Hawaii observed the object. NASA's new Spitzer Space Telescope also looked for it.

Sedna is extremely far from the Sun, in the coldest know region of our solar system, where temperatures never rise above minus 240 degrees Celsius (minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit). The planetoid is usually even colder, because it approaches the Sun only briefly during its 10,500-year solar orbit. At its most distant, Sedna is 130 billion kilometers (84 billion miles) from the Sun, which is 900 times Earth's solar distance.

Scientists used the fact that even the Spitzer telescope was unable to detect the heat of the extremely distant, cold object to determine it must be less than 1,700 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) in diameter, which is smaller than Pluto. By combining available data, Brown estimated Sedna's size at about halfway between Pluto and Quaoar, the planetoid discovered by the same team in 2002.

The elliptical orbit of Sedna is unlike anything previously seen by astronomers. However, it resembles that of objects predicted to lie in the hypothetical Oort cloud. The cloud is thought to explain the existence of certain comets. It is believed to surround the Sun and extend outward halfway to the star closest to the Sun. But Sedna is 10 times closer than the predicted distance of the Oort cloud. Brown said this "inner Oort cloud" may have been formed by gravity from a rogue star near the Sun in the solar system's early days.

"The star would have been close enough to be brighter than the full moon, and it would have been visible in the daytime sky for 20,000 years," Brown explained. Worse, it would have dislodged comets farther out in the Oort cloud, leading to an intense comet shower that could have wiped out some or all forms of life that existed on Earth at the time.

Rabinowitz said there is indirect evidence that Sedna may have a moon. The researchers hope to check this possibility with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Trujillo has begun to examine the object's surface with one of the world's largest optical/infrared telescopes, the 8-meter (26-foot) Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. "We still don't understand what is on the surface of this body. It is nothing like what we would have predicted or what we can explain," he said.

Sedna will become closer and brighter over the next 72 years, before it begins its 10,500-year trip to the far reaches of the solar system. "The last time Sedna was this close to the Sun, Earth was just coming out of the last ice age. The next time it comes back, the world might again be a completely different place," Brown said.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope. For more information about the research and images on the Internet, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media/releases/ssc2004-05. For information about NASA on the Internet, visit http://www.nasa.gov.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Most Distant Object In Solar System Discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040316072538.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2004, March 16). Most Distant Object In Solar System Discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040316072538.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Most Distant Object In Solar System Discovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040316072538.htm (accessed January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Eleven years ago NASA&apos;s Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then it has traveled 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers), further than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has ever driven. Credit to &apos;NASA&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) NASA&apos;s New Horizons probe is en route to snap a picture of Pluto this summer, but making sure it doesn&apos;t miss its one chance to do so starts now. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rosetta Captures Stunning Views, Diverse Data Of Comet 67P

Rosetta Captures Stunning Views, Diverse Data Of Comet 67P

Newsy (Jan. 23, 2015) The first images of the European Space Agency&apos;s Rosetta probe comet orbit could provide clues about its origin and how it got its unique shape. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins