[meteorite-list] Astronomers Discover 'New Planet' (Sedna)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:32:50 2004
Message-ID: <200403151634.IAA06872_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Astronomers discover 'new planet'
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News
March 15, 2004

Astronomers have detected what could be the Solar System's 10th planet.

It was first seen by astronomers using California's Mount Palomar Observatory,
and has been given the name "Sedna" after the Inuit goddess of the ocean.

Observations show it measures about 1,180-2,360km (730-1,470 miles) across,
making it similar in size to Pluto.

There is likely to be some debate about whether it qualifies as a true planet,
but some scientists are already saying it re-defines our Solar System.

Further than Pluto

Sedna, or 2003 VB16, as it was originally designated, is the most distant object
yet found orbiting our Sun. It is three times further away than Pluto (average
distance to the Sun is 5.9 billion km or 3.6 billion miles).

It was discovered using the Mt Palomar facility in November by astronomers from
the California Institute of Technology, Yale Observatory and the Gemini

Follow-up studies by the Tanagra Observatory have measured the thermal
radiation coming from Sedna to determine how hot it is, and therefore provide
some estimate of its size.

This estimate is uncertain but the object is likely to be between half the
diameter of Pluto (2,360km or 1,470 miles) and Pluto's size; though some
astronomers think it could be larger than the ninth planet itself.

>From the observations made so far, astronomers have determined Sedna's orbit
to be a very large one.

It is currently 90 times the Earth-Sun distance away (149 million km or
93 million miles), but its orbit can take it 10 times further away still.

Small worlds

Although Sedna could be a so-called Kuiper Belt object, its discoverers are
unsure if it is as they consider it to be unlike any other object yet found.

The KB contains hundreds of known objects and astronomers believe there are
many more awaiting discovery. Most are small worlds of rock and ice but some
could rival Pluto in size.

In recent years, astronomical work has thrown up several big objects. Quaoar,
found in 2002, is about 1,200km (745 miles) across. Ixion, discovered in 2001,
is 1,065 km (660 miles) wide. Varuna, detected in 2000, has a diameter of
approximately 900 km (560 miles).

And only in February this year, scientists picked up the object 2004 DW, which
is though to be 1,800km (1,120 miles) across.

The importance of Sedna is that it could be the first such world discovered in
its normal orbit. Other similar though smaller worlds, like Quaoar and Varuna,
originated in the KB but have since been perturbed into different orbits.

More follow-up observations are being carried out by the Hubble Space Telescope
and the Gemini Observatory.

Is it a planet?

The new discovery will reignite the debate about what constitutes a planet.

One group of astronomers believe that Pluto is not a true planet but merely
one of the largest of a vast number of minor objects in the outer Solar

The alternative standpoint is that Pluto is a planet and those who believe
that will have to classify Sedna as the 10th planet.

The name Sedna has been provided by its discoverers.

However, if its planetary status is confirmed, it may be that astronomy's
governing body, the International Astronomical Union, will want to reconsider
this, to make it more consistent with the mythological names of other planets.
Received on Mon 15 Mar 2004 11:34:26 AM PST

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