Last week astronomers reported the discovery of 2012 VP113 – nicknamed “Joe Biden” after the vice president, or VP, of the US. This potential dwarf planet was spotted on the outer fringes of the solar system, in a region called the inner Oort cloud. Days later, the same team reported two more potential dwarfs, known as 2013 FY27 and 2013 FZ27.
Both of these objects are in the Kuiper belt, a grouping of relatively small bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that is also home to Pluto and three other known dwarf planets. Astronomers suspect the Kuiper belt is littered with dwarfs, but many either reflect too little light or are too distant to have been visible in previous sky surveys.
Nature – At 450 kilometres across, 2012 VP113 is about half the size of Sedna. If, as scientists expect, it is made mostly of ice, then its gravity probably pulls it into a spherical shape. This would qualify it as a dwarf planet under the revised rules of planethood drawn up by the IAU in 2006.
FZ27 sits 50 astronomical units away from the sun, on the far edge of the Kuiper belt (1 AU is Earth’s distance from the sun). At about 600 kilometers wide [this would be larger than Palles the second largest asteroid], the object is probably massive enough for it to have become nearly round under its own gravity – one of the criteria for being classified as a dwarf planet. The other recently discovered object, FY27, is probably about 1000 kilometers [this would be larger than Ceres the largest Asteroid] across and was found roughly 80 AU from the sun.
This list of dwarf planets out in the Kuiper and inner Oort cloud is now outdated
All three objects were found in images from the Dark Energy Camera on the Blanco telescope in Chile, which took its first images in 2012. Boasting 570 megapixels, this camera was designed to collect the faint light from millions of very distant galaxies in the hunt for clues to the nature of dark energy, the mysterious force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.
Sedna and 2012 VP113 may be just the tip of the iceberg, says Megan Schwamb, an astronomer at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. She has looked for Sedna-like objects before, and has modelled how much material could be out there. The inner Oort cloud could contain some 10–100 times the mass of the Kuiper belt, she says.
Trujillo and Sheppard estimate that there are hundreds more inner Oort objects waiting to be found. They are currently tracking six more candidates that could belong to extreme parts of the Solar System.
Astronomers expect to find 5,000 more objects or so like the one [VP113-Biden] found, and 1,000 of them would be more than a thousand kilometers in size. Scott Sheppard who discovered Biden was interviewed at Motherboard. Astronomers are pretty sure objects far bigger than Pluto and something as big as Mars or the Earth is there. If astronomers found something like that, it would basically become another planet in our solar system. Most people say we have eight planets and a bunch of dwarf planets. Well, something of that mass and size would definitely have to be added to our main planet system.
Water on Ceres
Using European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, scientists detected water vapor escaping from two regions on Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest asteroid in the solar system. The water is likely erupting from icy volcanoes or sublimation of ice into clouds of vapor.
Ceres, a dwarf planet or giant asteroid (depending on the definition used), is the largest object in the asteroid belt, orbiting at 2.8 astronomical units (the distance from Earth to the sun). The “snowline” is thought to partition the solar system into dry objects inside the asteroid belt, and icy objects such as comets further out. But the finding of water on Ceres suggests more mixing has occurred.
Scientists have suspected that there is a substantial amount of water on Ceres for about 30 years. A study found hints of water in the form of hydroxide, a product of water’s dissociation, on Ceres in 1991, but the finding wasn’t confirmed by later observations. Now, Küppers and his colleagues have confirmed the finding.
The researchers used the Herschel Space Observatory’s spectrometer to look for signals of water. Clouds of water vapor around Ceres absorbed the heat that radiates from the dwarf planet, which Herschel’s instrument detected. The team found that Ceres produces about 2×10^26 molecules, or 13 lbs. (6 kilograms), of water vapor per second from its surface.
Ceres contains large amounts of water ice about one-tenth of the total water in Earth’s oceans.
The solar irradiance at Ceres is 150 W/m2 (at aphelion). This is one ninth that on Earth, is still high enough for solar-power facilities. The surface gravity on Ceres is roughly 0.028 g
Ceres could become the main base and transport hub for future asteroid mining infrastructure, allowing mineral resources to be transported to Mars, the Moon, and Earth.
Its colonization also could become a step on the way to the colonization of the objects in the outer Solar System, such as the moons of Jupiter. Because of its small escape velocity combined with large amounts of water ice, it also could serve as a source of water, fuel, and oxygen for ships going through and beyond the asteroid belt.
SOURCES – Space.com, Lunarplanner.com, wikipedia, New Scientist, Nature, Motherboard