Thursday, March 27, 2014

Solar System Surprises

Hey Space Placers!

We got two solar system surprises yesterday with the announcement that an asteroid has a dual ring system and the discovery of a far flung dwarf planet.

Pretty amazing that an asteroid could develop a dual ring system as we previously only knew of  the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus  and Neptune having ring systems.  Chariklo is a 250 km wide asteroid that orbits between Saturn and Uranus and is part of a group of asteroids known as Centaurs.

Ring system of Chariklo - ESA
Centaurs are intriguing as there are an estimated 44,000 of them and they have been observed to behave  as comets as well as asteroids. The ring system around Chariklo was discovered when the asteroid passed in front of a star and astronomers observed multiple instances of the star being blocked (occulted) by not only the body of the asteroid but a ring system as well. This was the same way that the ring system of Uranus was discovered.

The other big announcement was about a new dwarf planet called 2012 VP113 being discovered by ground based telescopes. The discovers are calling this dwarf planet Biden because of the "VP" in the original designation of their find but the true name will have to await official designation.

This 280 mile-wide dwarf planet is twice as far from the Sun as Pluto and beyond Sedna - the previously known farthest dwarf planet. It is pinkish in color covered with frozen methane and water. The discovers think there is a possibility that even larger objects could be "out there", perhaps even the size of Earth or MArs.

These images show the discovery of 2012 VP113 taken about 2 hours apart on Nov. 5, 2012. The motion of 2012 VP113 stands out compared to the steady state background of stars and galaxies.

Image Credit: 
Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science
Read More About It.

The bottom line is that we are continuing to discover that our solar system is a VERY busy place with untold numbers of comets, asteroids and dwarf planets.

Sky Guy in VA

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