A group of researchers recently found a potential new dwarf planet in pictures taken with the Dark Energy Camera.
Photo: Reidar Hahn
Thanks to scientists on the Dark Energy Survey (DES), the solar system just got another member.
DES scientists recently reported the discovery of a potential dwarf planet located 92 times farther from the sun than the Earth is, more than twice as distant as Pluto. The new dwarf planet was discovered using the Dark Energy Camera, a scientific instrument built at Fermilab to probe the mystery of dark energy. But as scientists on the DES collaboration can attest, DECam turns out to be a powerful tool for astronomy as well as cosmology.
The newly discovered object, which the team has nicknamed DeeDee (for “distant dwarf”), is for now known as 2014 UZ224. DeeDee takes more than 1,100 years to complete one orbit around our sun and is currently the second-most distant known object in the solar system. Light from DeeDee takes 12-and-a-half hours to reach us.
DeeDee is one of many small icy worlds that lie beyond the most distant planet in the solar system, Neptune. Such celestial bodies are called trans-Neptunian objects, or TNOs, the most famous of which is the dwarf planet Pluto. TNOs are “cosmic leftovers” from the formation 4 billion years ago of the giant planets, such as Jupiter and Neptune, and scientists study them to learn more about the history of our solar system.
David Gerdes and his students at the University of Michigan first spotted DeeDee as a moving spot of light that appeared in just 14 of the tens of thousands of pictures taken by the Dark Energy Survey.
The DES collaboration uses the state-of-the-art Dark Energy Camera on a telescope in Chile to map distant galaxies, to find supernovae and to search for patterns in the cosmic structure. DES began observing the sky in 2013 with the goal of shining light on dark energy, the mysterious substance that is accelerating the expansion of the universe, and collaboration scientists are primarily engaged in that task. Trans-Neptunian objects are not part of DES’ main science interests since they don’t tell us about the universe’s expansion.
The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) is a complex of astronomical telescopes and instruments located at 30.169 S, 70.804 W, approximately 80 km to the East of La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 2200 meters. CTIO headquarters are located in La Serena, Chile, about 300 miles north of Santiago.
The CTIO complex is part of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), along with the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Tucson, Arizona. NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF). CTIO, as part of the AURA Observatory in Chile, operates in Chile under Chilean law, through an Agreement with the University of Chile and with the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile.
The principal telescopes on site are the 4-m Victor M. Blanco Telescope and the 4.1-m Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope. One of the two 8-m telescopes comprising the Gemini Observatory is co-located with CTIO on AURA property in Chile, together with more than 10 other telescopes and astronomical projects.