‘Farout’, most distant object in solar system, discovered by astronomers
An artist’s imagining of “Farout”, a small, pink dwarf planet. (Carnegie Institution for Science: Roberto Molar Candanosa)
Astronomers have spotted the farthest known object in our solar system — a dwarf planet they nicknamed “Farout”.
- Farout would take more than 1,000 years to orbit the sun
- Astronomers spotted the dwarf planet while looking for the hypothetical Planet X
- Planet X is believed to be a massive planet well beyond Pluto, and could be warping the orbits of distant objects
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre announced the discovery on Monday.
“Farout” is about 18 billion kilometres away — which is about 120 astronomical units, roughly 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun.
The previous record-holder was the dwarf planet Eris at 96 astronomical units. Pluto, by comparison, is 34 astronomical units away.
The Carnegie Institution’s Scott Sheppard said the object was so far away and moving so slowly it would take a few years to determine its orbit.
At that distance, it could take more than 1,000 years to orbit the sun.
Dr Sheppard and his team spied the dwarf planet in November using a telescope in Hawaii.
Their finding was confirmed by a telescope in Chile.
“I actually uttered ‘far out’ when I first found this object, because I immediately noticed from its slow movement that it must be far out there,” Dr Sheppard wrote in an email.
“It is the slowest-moving object I have ever seen and is really out there.”
It is an estimated 500 kilometres across and believed to be round.
Its pink shade indicates an ice-rich object. Little else is known.
The discovery came about as the astronomers were searching for the hypothetical Planet X, a massive planet believed by some to be orbiting the sun from vast distances, well beyond Pluto.
If Farout’s orbit is warped, it could help narrow down the search for Planet X — scientists have hypothesised its mass could be warping the orbits of distant objects.