New Dwarf Planet 'Biden' May Offer Cosmic Secrets

Discovery at solar system's edge hints at more to come

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 26, 2014 5:46 PM CDT

(Newser) – Astronomers, and reporters who cover astronomy, are pretty excited today about the discovery of a suspected dwarf planet named 2012 VP-113—and thus nicknamed "Biden"—in the nether regions of the solar system beyond Pluto. Some snippets:

  • Nature: "The Solar System just got a lot more far-flung. ... Together with Sedna, a similar extreme object discovered a decade ago, the find is reshaping ideas about how the Solar System came to be."
  • Astronomer Chad Trujillo: 'It goes to show that there’s something we don’t know about our Solar System, and it’s something important,” says the co-discoverer from the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. “We’re starting to get a taste of what’s out beyond what we consider the edge."
  • Christian Science Monitor: If astronomers could find several dozen of these Sedna-like dwarf planets, "the payoff would be pretty large," says an astrophysicist not involved with the discovery. "You would really know a lot about the early history of the solar system, and it's not just the architecture of the solar system. This is a big deal, from the point of view of understanding where we come from."

  • LA Times: "This planetoid’s movements hint that an invisible giant planet perhaps 10 times the size of Earth could be lurking around the dark fringes of our solar system." And it "helps confirm the existence of an 'inner Oort cloud' in an interplanetary no man’s land that was once thought to be empty but could potentially be teeming with rocky denizens."
  • Phil Plait, Slate: The object has "an orbit so big it never gets closer than 12 billion kilometers (7.4 billion miles) from the Sun! That’s 80 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun. No other solar system object known stays so far from the Sun. And at its most distant, it reaches an incredible 70 billion kilometers (44 billion miles) from the Sun—and it takes well over 4,000 years to circle the Sun once."
  • The AP: "It measures about 280 miles across, or half the diameter of Sedna. It's bone-chilling cold with a temperature of around minus 430 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike red and shiny Sedna, the newfound object is more pink and much fainter, which made it hard to detect. By contrast, Earth is about 7,900 miles across and located 93 million miles from the sun."

This combination of images provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows a new solar system object dubbed 2012 VP113, indicated by the yellow arrow, that was observed on November 2012.
This combination of images provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows a new solar system object dubbed 2012 VP113, indicated by the yellow arrow, that was observed on November 2012.   (AP Photo/Carnegie Institution for Science, Scott S. Sheppard)
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