The list of Pluto's neighbors just got considerably longer, potentially boosting scientists' odds of finding the putative Planet Nine.
Astronomers have discovered 139 more "minor planets" small bodies circling the sun that are neither official planets nor comets in the dark, frigid depths beyond Neptune's orbit, a new study reports. The new additions represent nearly 5% of the current trans-Neptunian object (TNO) tally, which stands at about 3,000, the researchers said.
The scientists pored over data gathered by the Dark Energy Survey (DES) during its first four years of operation, from 2013 to 2017. The DES studies the heavens using the 520-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, which is mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Related: Trans-Neptunian objects in the outer solar system (infographic)
As the project's name implies, the main goal of the DES involves shedding light on dark energy, the mysterious force thought to be behind the universe's accelerating expansion. But the high-resolution DES imagery has a number of other applications, including the discovery of small objects in our own solar system, as the new study shows.
The researchers started out with 7 billion DES-detected dots, which they whittled down to 22 million "transients" after ruling out objects such as galaxies that appeared in roughly the same spot on multiple nights. Those 22 million were further culled to 400 TNO candidates, whose movements the team was able to track over at least six different nights.
After months of vetting by analysis and observation, the team verified 316 of the small bodies as bona fide TNOs. These cataloged objects lie between 30 and 90 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, and 139 of them are new to science, the researchers said. (1 AU is the Earth-sun distance, which is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.)
The techniques the researchers developed could aid future TNO searches, including those potentially conducted by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which is scheduled to come online in the early 2020s, study team members said.
"Many of the programs we've developed can be easily applied to any other large datasets, such as what the Rubin Observatory will produce," lead author Pedro Bernardinelli, a physics and astronomy graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
The team members are also now running their analyses on the DES' entire six-year data set, an effort that could yield an additional 500 or so newfound TNOs. (The DES' initial run wrapped up in 2019.) Such new additions could end up being bread crumbs that lead to Planet Nine, the hypothesized world that some scientists think lurks undiscovered in the far outer solar system, hundreds of AU from the sun.
Planet Nine's existence, after all, is inferred from weird clustering in the orbits of certain TNOs.
"There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the solar system and aren't there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet," study co-author Gary Bernstein, an astronomy and astrophysics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the same statement.
"Making the catalog is the fun discovery part," Bernstein added. "Then, when you create this resource, you can compare what you did find to what somebody's theory said you should find."
The new study was published this week in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. You can read a preprint of it for free at arXiv.org.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
- Mystery of a massive neutron star merger in Milky Way explained by new astrophysics theory - Firstpost - May 20th, 2020
- UWMadison astrophysicists donate computing resources to aid COVID-19 research | WIPAC - Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center - University of... - May 20th, 2020
- Astronomers discover a massive rotating disk galaxy in the early universe - UC Santa Cruz - May 20th, 2020
- This Bionic Eye Is Better Than a Real One, Scientists Say - Futurism - May 20th, 2020
- Formation of pair of baby planets around their parent star captured in remarkable first - Firstpost - May 20th, 2020
- Biggest influencers in big data in Q1 2020: The top companies and individuals to follow - Verdict - May 20th, 2020
- Embedded in the community: Outstanding physics student is a third-generation ASU student - ASU Now - May 19th, 2020
- Peter Brancazio, Who Explored the Physics of Sports, Dies at 81 - The New York Times - May 19th, 2020
- Scientists have discovered a star that is almost as old as the Universe, is in its last stages of life - Firstpost - May 19th, 2020
- Russian Astrophysicists Trace Neutrinos Mysterious Ghost Particles From Where No One Had Expected - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- The Weight of the Universe Physicists Challenge the Standard Model of Cosmology - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- Hot Super-Earth Discovered Orbiting Ancient Star | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - May 19th, 2020
- Exploring Astronomy Club and enduring COVID-19 The Mesa Press - Mesa Press - May 19th, 2020
- Astronomers Find Earth's Closest Black Hole (So Far) - The Wire - May 11th, 2020
- A long-lost type of dark matter may resolve the biggest disagreement in physics - Times Famous - May 11th, 2020
- Student mothers describe increased stressors as COVID-19 mixes home and work - Daily Northwestern - May 11th, 2020
- Search For Intelligent Alien Life: Galaxies That Are More Likely to Harbor Technologically Advanced Civilizations - SciTechDaily - May 11th, 2020
- UWMadison announces its fourth round of cluster hires - University of Wisconsin-Madison - May 11th, 2020
- A mystery solved? Fast Radio Burst detected within Milky Way - News Info Park - May 11th, 2020
- Here's How to Spot the Starlink Satellite Cluster in the Sky This Month - Our Community Now at Maryland - May 11th, 2020
- Astronomers find closest known black hole to Earth, hints of more - KING5.com - May 6th, 2020
- Lessons from above: U of T astronomers help bring the heavens into homes during COVID-19 - News@UofT - May 6th, 2020
- Super Flower Moon 2020: All you need to know about the last super moon of this year - Jagran English - May 6th, 2020
- The Inconstant Universe Weird Findings Point to a New Physics - The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel - April 29th, 2020
- Astronomers Have Watched a Nova Go From Start to Finish For The First Time - ScienceAlert - April 29th, 2020
- Experimenting in the Universe's Laboratory - NC State News - April 29th, 2020
- NSF funds RIT researchers to develop code for astrophysics and gravitational wave calculations - RIT University News Services - April 29th, 2020
- The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Inducts 12 Columbia Faculty Members - Columbia University - April 29th, 2020
- WATCH: Eyewitness News talks with NASA astrophysicist about Hubble Space Telescopes 30th Anniversary - Eyewitness News (WEHT/WTVW) - April 29th, 2020
- Hungry galaxies grow fat on the flesh of their neighbours - UNSW Newsroom - April 29th, 2020
- UAH reports record research results of $109.7 million in 2019: NSF survey - UAH News - April 29th, 2020
- The College honors outstanding academic achievement with 2020 Dean's Medals - ASU Now - April 29th, 2020
- Asteroid set to miss Earth, so there's one less worry - ANU College of Science - April 29th, 2020
- HPU Students, Faculty and Staff Recognized for Research and Innovation - High Point University - April 29th, 2020
- Q&A: Putting the Sky in Everyone's Hands - Physics - April 27th, 2020
- Astronomers Watch a Nova Go From Start to Finish for the First Time - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- A Star is Orbiting the Milky Way's Black Hole and Moving Exactly How Einstein Predicted it Should - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- New Theory and Space X-Rays - What Does It Entail? - Communal News - April 27th, 2020
- The silliest string-theory alternative yet draws inspiration from video games - The Next Web - April 27th, 2020
- This planetary system's perfect rhythm tells us a lot about how it came to be - The Next Web - April 27th, 2020
- Astronomers Find a Six-Planet System Which Orbit in Lockstep With Each Other - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- 5 things to know about Colts new RB Jonathan Taylor - Colts Wire - April 27th, 2020
- This planet is so scorching that metals actually vaporize into the atmosphere - SYFY WIRE - April 27th, 2020
- Infinite Visions Were Hiding in the First Black Hole Images Rings - The New York Times - March 31st, 2020
- How Researchers Produce Sharp Images of a Black Hole - Universe Today - March 31st, 2020
- New mission would provide a road map in the search for alien atmospheres - CU Boulder Today - March 31st, 2020
- Pollution down, sky clearer: Amateur astronomers have a good time - Hindustan Times - March 31st, 2020
- April's full moon is a supermoon, and rises on the 7th - Brainerd Dispatch - March 31st, 2020
- Mystery of Supermassive Black Holes Shortly After the Big Bang Explanation Discovered - SciTechDaily - March 31st, 2020
- Educational Shows For Kids to Stream From Home - Den of Geek UK - March 31st, 2020
- Universities Space Research Association's Adam Goldstein Named Co-Investigator on NASA's Recently Elected Proposed Mission on LargE Area burst... - March 26th, 2020
- The Mystery of Supermassive Black Hole Formation - AZoQuantum - March 26th, 2020
- The true impact of SpaceXs Starlink constellation on astronomy is coming into focus - The Verge - March 26th, 2020
- Mobile astronomy: Put the Milky Way in your pocket with 'Our Galaxy' smartphone app - Space.com - March 26th, 2020
- An Interview With Matthew Mercer About The Explorers Guide To Wildemount - Forbes - March 26th, 2020
- Scientists Made an Explanation of Why Time Cannot Be Reversed - Somag News - March 26th, 2020
- Birmingham scientist recognised with international physics prize - University of Birmingham - March 16th, 2020
- Here's how a massive new telescope will revolutionize our view of the sun - Space.com - March 16th, 2020
- The universe may have been filled with supermassive black holes at the dawn of time - Livescience.com - March 16th, 2020
- This astrophysicist could become the first non-binary person to lead a major political party in Canada - PinkNews - March 16th, 2020
- We're not saying flee this doomed Earth... but 139 minor planets were spotted at the outer reaches of our Solar System. Just an FYI, that's all - The... - March 16th, 2020
- Data Science, AI, and Space Are All Connected for New AAS Fellow Kirk Borne - CSRwire.com - March 16th, 2020
- Hear From Immigrants and Refugees in Their Own Words - The Nation - March 16th, 2020
- Big telescopes join hunt for things that go flash in the night - Science Magazine - February 12th, 2020
- Black holes echoing through spacetime could be telling us they arent what we think they are - SYFY WIRE - February 12th, 2020
- As era of commercial spaceflight dawns, U of T alumna seeks to deliver health care among the stars - News@UofT - February 12th, 2020
- Why the suns mysteries could soon be revealed - Christian Science Monitor - February 12th, 2020
- Breaking the glass ceiling: When it comes to science, Polish women are on the up - The First News - February 12th, 2020
- Elon University's new 10-year plan includes an innovation quad, new nursing programs and lots more dorm rooms - Greensboro News & Record - February 12th, 2020
- Supercharged Light Pulverizes Asteroids Cascade of Destruction - SciTechDaily - February 12th, 2020
- Features | Things I Have Learned | Six Organs Of Admittance's Ben Chasny On Stargazing - The Quietus - February 12th, 2020
- Polar Express: New Spacecraft Will Explore Elusive Parts Of The Sun - OPB News - February 12th, 2020
- This Is Wild: Astrophysicists Can See Stars Twisting Space and Time - Popular Mechanics - February 1st, 2020
- An astrophysicist honors citizen scientists in the age of big data - Science News - February 1st, 2020
- Department of Energy to use IU's Big Red 200 supercomputer; Purdue University Fort Wayne offering astronomy concentration - FW Business - February 1st, 2020
- Figuring out what the Milky Way looks like is akin to a murder mystery - New Scientist - February 1st, 2020
- Black holes caught in the act of swallowing stars - Science Magazine - February 1st, 2020
- Spacing Out: How AI Provides Astronomers with Insights of Galactic Proportions - IT News Online - February 1st, 2020
- I'd like to boldly go where everyone ought to be headed by now, by Susie Reing - The Keene Sentinel - February 1st, 2020
- Is there a 2nd planet orbiting Proxima Centauri? - EarthSky - February 1st, 2020