Researchers Locate New Minor Planets Beyond Neptune Using DES Information

  • Researchers Locate New Minor Planets Beyond Neptune Using DES Information

Researchers Locate New Minor Planets Beyond Neptune Using DES Information

The Dark Energy Survey began imaging the southern sky in August 2013 and finished collecting data after six years at the beginning of 2019.

"There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the solar system and aren't there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet", study co-author Gary Bernstein, an astronomy and astrophysics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the same statement.

We know there are scads of these bodies out beyond the orbit of Neptune, a distance of around 4.5 billion kilometres from the Sun - 30 times the distance between Earth and the Sun (therefore 30 AU, or astronomical units).

The location of the newly found TNOs range from 30 to 90 AU (astronomical units), or 30 to 90 times Earth's distance from the Sun. Unlike traditional surveys aimed at looking for TNOs-which take very frequent measurements of the sky-DES was created to observe large, distant objects such as stars, galaxies and supernovae.

While DES wasn't specifically designed with TNOs in mind, its wide field of view (about 14 of our Moons would fit in its focal plane) and its ability to track moving objects make it particularly adept at finding new things out beyond Neptune.

"Dedicated TNO surveys have a way of seeing the object move, and it's easy to track them down", Pedro Bernardinelli, an creator of the learn about from the University of Pennsylvania, mentioned in a remark. "One of the key things we did in this paper was figure out a way to recover those movements". All these steps resulted in a list of around 400 candidates that appeared over at least six nights, and then needed to be verified.

Then objects that were present on numerous nights were eliminated, which includes stars, galaxies and supernova - narrowing down the list to 22 million. (For context, Pluto orbits at an average distance of almost 40 astronomical units.) If these extreme TNOs can be confirmed, they will be among the most distant Solar System objects we have seen.

After the months-long process, the team reported on 316 TNOs, including 245 discoveries made by DES and 139 new objects that were not previously published - this total represents 10% of all known TNOs. They also verified that their method was able to spot known TNOs in the areas of the sky being studied and just to really test themselves, they found they could spot fake objects that were injected into the analysis. DES, who has discovered 3,000 objects to date, is a percent of all known TNOs.

"The hardest part was making sure we were trying to find what we had to find". Some of these objects are on extremely long-distance orbits that will carry them far beyond Pluto.

"Bernardinelli said he will be using his methods to search for more TNOs in the subsequent two years" dataset from DES' six year observing run.

The techniques the researchers developed could aid future TNO searches, including those potentially conducted by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which is scheduled to come online in the early 2020s, study team members said. The team has tweaked the detection parameters, and will be applying them to the full 5.5-year Dark Energy Survey observation data; the revised techniques might yield hundreds more TNOs.

This catalog of TNOs will also be a useful scientific tool for research about the solar system. A new study describes the methodology used, which the team hopes will be adapted in the search for the hypothetical Planet Nine and other undiscovered planets.