An international team of astronomers announced in December that they had observed a small, round, pink object orbiting the Sun at 120 astronomical units (AU), where one AU is equivalent to the Earth-Sun distance. This object was nicknamed FarOut and its record might already be broken.
Dr Scott Sheppard, from the Carnegie Institution for Science, announced the news on Thursday during a public talk about the search for the hypothetical ninth planet of the solar system.
“This is hot off the presses,” Sheppard said during the talk. “Yesterday it snowed so I had nothing to do, so I went looking through some of our data.”
That’s when he spotted this potential new world. The object, if confirmed, is at a distance of 140 AU from the Sun, which is roughly 3.5 times the distance between our star and Pluto. Dr Sheppard is part of the team that discovered FarOut, so he nicknamed the new celestial body FarFarOut.
“It is very faint; it is on the edge of our ability to detect it,” Sheppard explained. “We don’t know anything about the orbit of this object, we just know it is far, far out.”
Being so far away from the Sun, both FarOut and FarFarOut move extremely slowly across the Sky, so it will take years to fully determined their orbit. However, by doing so, we could learn something about “Planet Nine”.
The orbit of many worlds in the outer solar system appears to be influenced by the presence of a massive object much further out and on the opposite side of the Sun. FarOut was located in the right place in the sky if we were to accept that such a gravitational influence was happening. More formal updates on FarFarOut will hopefully tell us if this object is also located in the same region of the sky.
The existence of Planet Nine was first proposed by astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016. This world is expected to have 10 times the mass of Earth. No direct observation has seen it, but many astronomers argue that the case for it being out there is becoming more and more compelling.