Meet the New Planet That’s Way Out Past Pluto

NASA just redefined the edge of our solar system.

Pluto is a way closer neighbor than NASA's latest discovery.
National Journal
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Alex Brown
March 26, 2014, 1:58 p.m.

The sol­ar sys­tem has a new kid on the (far end of the) block.

Thanks to a NASA dis­cov­ery, we now know of our most-dis­tant fel­low sun-or­bit­er. “This dis­cov­ery adds the most dis­tant ad­dress thus far to our sol­ar sys­tem’s dy­nam­ic neigh­bor­hood map,” NASA’s Kelly Fast said in a re­lease.

The space agency says its dis­cov­ery could be a dwarf plan­et, the same des­ig­na­tion giv­en to Pluto when it lost its reg­u­lar plan­et status. For now, it’s call­ing the ob­ject 2012 VP113.

In lieu of a catchy name, NASA provided some fun facts about its dis­cov­ery. At its closest, 2012 VP113 is about 80 as­tro­nom­ic­al units (the dis­tance between Earth and the sun) from the sun. By con­trast, Pluto gets with­in 30 AU.

The next-closest ob­ject we know about is Sedna, which comes with­in 76 AU and veers as far away as 937 AU. Sedna’s or­bit takes some 11,400 years to com­plete. Sci­ent­ists be­lieve as many as 900 ob­jects with sim­il­ar or­bits await our dis­cov­ery.

Sedna and 2012 VP113 were dis­covered as they neared the sun; both are not vis­ible in the more dis­tant parts of their or­bits. In oth­er words, if we’d missed them, we would not have been able to see them for thou­sands more years.

The dis­cov­ery of 2012 VP113 may lead to an even great­er rev­el­a­tion — the tra­ject­ory of its or­bit sug­gests to NASA that a dis­tant, un­dis­covered plan­et may be out there that is 10 times the size of Earth. “Fur­ther stud­ies of this deep space arena will con­tin­ue,” NASA prom­ises.

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