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New Dwarf Planet Discovered In The Solar System: A Friend For Pluto?

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Scientists have announced the discovery of a new dwarf planet, which may become a companion to Pluto - the most famous dwarf planet.

Named as 2014 UZ224, the potential dwarf planet's discovery has been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union.

The newbie is likely to join the five established dwarf planets in the solar system: Pluto, Haumea, Ceres, Eris and Makemake.

Discovered by a team of undergraduate students led by physicist David Gerdes of the University of Michigan, 2014 UZ224 was found lurking in the edges of the Kuiper belt at a distance of 13.6 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) away from the sun and well beyond Neptune and past Pluto.

It has been reported that 2014 UZ224 takes 1,100 years to make a single loop of the sun and is the third most distant object in the solar system.

Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, explained that anything larger than 400 kilometers (248 miles) in diameter in the Kuiper belt can be assumed to be round and would easily qualify as a dwarf planet.

In terms of diameter, 2014 UZ224 is believed to be around 530 kilometers (329 miles). Brown is famous for his campaign that led to the downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006.

How The Dwarf Planet Was Discovered

The discovery of the new dwarf planet came thanks to a massive galaxy map created by the Dark Energy Survey and some serious observation skills. For the survey, Gerdes helped in developing an instrument called the Dark Energy Camera, which was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy for making a map of distant galaxies.

When a bunch of undergraduates came to visit him one summer some years ago, the Michigan physicist decided to assign them a special project: locate and track solar system objects in the galaxy map. Gerdes said that the basic principle in finding solar system objects from pictures of the sky will be to look for things that are moving consistently.

"Objects in the solar system, when you observe them at one instant and then a little while later, they appear to be in a different place in the sky," Gerdes said in an interview with NPR.

It is a known fact that stars and galaxies are basically stationary. Unlike them, planets or asteroids will be seen moving slightly night after night and appear like a dot of light moving amid the backdrop of stars.

Helping take the project forward was a software developed by the team that could help in connecting the dots to estimate the object's orbit around the sun. Gerdes and his team continued their observation through many weeks and months. There were times when they would only be able to record one observation of the dwarf planet in one night.

"And then two weeks later one observation, and then five nights later another observation, and four months later another observation," Gerdes added. "So the connecting-the-dots problem is much more challenging."

Despite the spotting of the new dwarf planet, the scientists' real target has been unraveling a planet that is 10 times bigger than Earth and is said to be hiding in the far-off regions of the solar system. They are still scouring all parts of the sky for the elusive Planet Nine.

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