New Minor Planet Discovered Near Neptune

Posted by Michael Pinto on Aug 19, 2008 in Science |

New Minor Planet Discovered Near Neptune

Could it be that there are quite a few minor planets wandering around out there on the far edge of our solar system? Astronomers haven’t come up with a real name yet, but this new minor planet called 2006 SQ372 is mostly made of rock and ice. Shown above is a chart of the orbit of 2006 SQ372 which almost seems to just barely dip into our solar system (click on the image to view it at full size). Here’s the full story:

Astronomers Find a New “Minor Planet” near Neptune

“Astronomers announced today that a new “minor planet” with an unusual orbit has been found just two billion miles from Earth, closer than Neptune. Using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, astronomers detected a small, comet-like object called 2006 SQ372, which is likely made of rock and ice. However, its orbit never brings it close enough to the sun for it to develop a tail. Its unusual orbit is an ellipse that is four times longer than it is wide, said University of Washington astronomer Andrew Becker, who led the discovery team. The only known object with a comparable orbit is Sedna — the distant, Pluto-like dwarf planet discovered in 2003. But 2006 SQ372’s orbit takes it more than one-and-a-half times further from the Sun, and its orbital period is nearly twice as long.

2006 SQ372 is beginning the return leg of a 22,500-year journey that will take it to a distance of 150 billion miles, nearly 1,600 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Scientists believe the object is only 50-100 kilometers (30-60 miles) across.”

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