[meteorite-list] 2007 OR10: Largest Unnamed World in the Solar System

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 13 May 2016 17:15:05 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201605140015.u4E0F50S011847_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


2007 OR10: Largest Unnamed World in the Solar System
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
May 11, 2016

Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch. With the exception of Ceres,
which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all
members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the
depths beyond Neptune. They are far from Earth - small and cold - which
makes them difficult to observe, even with large telescopes. So it's little
wonder astronomers only discovered most of them in the past decade or

Pluto is a prime example of this elusiveness. Before NASA's New Horizons
spacecraft visited it in 2015, the largest of the dwarf planets had appeared
as little more than a fuzzy blob, even to the keen-eyed Hubble Space Telescope.
Given the inherent challenges in trying to observe these far-flung worlds,
astronomers often need to combine data from a variety of sources in order
to tease out basic details about their properties.

Recently, a group of astronomers did just that by combining data from
two space observatories to reveal something surprising: a dwarf planet
named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought.

The results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed world in our solar system
and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf
planets. The study also found that the object is quite dark and rotating
more slowly than almost any other body orbiting our sun, taking close
to 45 hours to complete its daily spin.

For their research, the scientists used NASA's repurposed planet-hunting
Kepler space telescope -- its mission now known as K2 -- along with the
archival data from the infrared Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel was
a mission of the European Space Agency with NASA participation. The research
paper reporting these results is published in The Astronomical Journal.

"K2 has made yet another important contribution in revising the size estimate
of 2007 OR10. But what's really powerful is how combining K2 and Herschel
data yields such a wealth of information about the object's physical properties,"
said Geert Barentsen, Kepler/K2 research scientist at NASA's Ames Research
Center in Moffett Field, California.

The revised measurement of the planet's diameter, 955 miles (1,535 kilometers),
is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) greater than the next largest dwarf
planet, Makemake, or about one-third smaller than Pluto. Another dwarf
planet, named Haumea, has an oblong shape that is wider on its long axis
than 2007 OR10, but its overall volume is smaller.

Like its predecessor mission, K2 searches for the change in brightness
of distant objects. The tiny, telltale dip in the brightness of a star
can be the signature of a planet passing, or transiting, in front. But,
closer to home, K2 also looks out into our solar system to observe small
bodies such as comets, asteroids, moons and dwarf planets. Because of
its exquisite sensitivity to small changes in brightness, Kepler is an
excellent instrument for observing the brightness of distant solar system
objects and how that changes as they rotate.

Figuring out the size of small, faint objects far from Earth is tricky
business. Since they appear as mere points of light, it can be a challenge
to determine whether the light they emit represents a smaller, brighter
object, or a larger, darker one. This is what makes it so difficult to
observe 2007 OR10 -- although its elliptical orbit brings it nearly as
close to the sun as Neptune, it is currently twice as far from the sun
as Pluto.

Enter the dynamic duo of Kepler and Herschel.

Previous estimates based on Herschel data alone suggested a diameter of
roughly 795 miles (1,280 kilometers) for 2007 OR10. However, without a
handle on the object's rotation period, those studies were limited in
their ability to estimate its overall brightness, and hence its size.
The discovery of the very slow rotation by K2 was essential for the team
to construct more detailed models that revealed the peculiarities of this
dwarf planet. The rotation measurements even included hints of variations
in brightness across its surface.

Together, the two space telescopes allowed the team to measure the fraction
of sunlight reflected by 2007 OR10 (using Kepler) and the fraction absorbed
and later radiated back as heat (using Herschel). Putting these two data
sets together provided an unambiguous estimation of the dwarf planet's
size and how reflective it is.

According to the new measurements, the diameter of 2007 OR10 is some 155
miles (250 kilometers) larger than previously thought. The larger size
also implies higher gravity and a very dark surface -- the latter because
the same amount of light is being reflected by a larger body. This dark
nature is different from most dwarf planets, which are much brighter.
Previous ground-based observations found 2007 OR10 has a characteristic
red color, and other researchers have suggested this might be due to methane
ices on its surface.

"Our revised larger size for 2007 OR10 makes it increasingly likely the
planet is covered in volatile ices of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen,
which would be easily lost to space by a smaller object," said Andr??s
P??l at Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, who led the research.
"It's thrilling to tease out details like this about a distant, new world
-- especially since it has such an exceptionally dark and reddish surface
for its size."

As for when 2007 OR10 will finally get a name, that honor belongs to the
object's discoverers. Astronomers Meg Schwamb, Mike Brown and David Rabinowitz
spotted it in 2007 as part of a survey to search for distant solar system
bodies using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San

"The names of Pluto-sized bodies each tell a story about the characteristics
of their respective objects. In the past, we haven't known enough about
2007 OR10 to give it a name that would do it justice," said Schwamb. "I
think we're coming to a point where we can give 2007 OR10 its rightful

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler
mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates
the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and
Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:


More information about Herschel is online at:


News Media Contact

Michele Johnson
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
michele.johnson at nasa.gov

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Elizabeth.landau at jpl.nasa.gov

Written by Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Received on Fri 13 May 2016 08:15:05 PM PDT

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