A new object at the edge of our Solar System discovered

Mar 26, 2014
Solar System's edge redefined
These are the discovery images of 2012 VP113, affectionately called 'Biden' because of the VP in the provisional name. It has the most distant orbit known in our Solar System. Three images of the night sky, each taken about two hours apart, were combined into one. The first image was artificially colored red, second green and third blue. 2012 VP113 moved between each image as seen by the red, green and blue dots. The background stars and galaxies did not move and thus their red, green and blue images combine to showup as white sources. Credit: Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo

The Solar System has a new most-distant member, bringing its outer frontier into focus.

New work from Carnegie's Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory reports the discovery of a distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, which was found beyond the known edge of the Solar System. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What's more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.

Their findings are published March 27 in Nature.

The known Solar System can be divided into three parts: the rocky planets like Earth, which are close to the Sun; the gas giant planets, which are further out; and the frozen objects of the Kuiper belt, which lie just beyond Neptune's orbit. Beyond this, there appears to be an edge to the Solar System where only one object, Sedna, was previously known to exist for its entire orbit. But the newly found 2012 VP113 has an orbit that stays even beyond Sedna, making it the furthest known in the Solar System.

"This is an extraordinary result that redefines our understanding of our Solar System," says Linda Elkins-Tanton, director of Carnegie's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

These images show the discovery of the new inner Oort cloud object 2012 VP113 taken about 2 hours apart on UT November 5, 2012. The motion of 2012 VP113 clearly stands out compared to the steady state background stars and galaxies. Credit: Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

Sedna was discovered beyond the Kuiper Belt edge in 2003, and it was not known if Sedna was unique, as Pluto once was thought to be before the Kuiper Belt was discovered. With the discovery of 2012 VP113 it is now clear Sedna is not unique and is likely the second known member of the hypothesized inner Oort cloud, the likely origin of some comets.

2012 VP113's closest orbit point to the Sun brings it to about 80 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun, a measurement referred to as an astronomical unit or AU. For context, the rocky planets and asteroids exist at distances ranging between .39 and 4.2 AU. Gas giants are found between 5 and 30 AU, and the Kuiper belt (composed of thousands of icy objects, including Pluto) ranges from 30 to 50 AU. In our solar system there is a distinct edge at 50 AU. Only Sedna was known to stay significantly beyond this outer boundary at 76 AU for its entire orbit.

This is an orbit diagram for the outer solar system. The Sun and Terrestrial planets are at the center. The orbits of the four giant planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are shown by purple solid circles. The Kuiper Belt, including Pluto, is shown by the dotted light blue region just beyond the giant planets. Sedna's orbit is shown in orange while 2012 VP113's orbit is shown in red. Both objects are currently near their closest approach to the Sun (perihelion). They would be too faint to detect when in the outer parts of their orbits. Notice that both orbits have similar perihelion locations on the sky and both are far away from the giant planet and Kuiper Belt regions. Credit: Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo

"The search for these distant inner Oort cloud objects beyond Sedna and 2012 VP113 should continue, as they could tell us a lot about how our Solar System formed and evolved," says Sheppard.

Sheppard and Trujillo used the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the NOAO 4 meter telescope in Chile for discovery. DECam has the largest field-of-view of any 4-meter or larger telescope, giving it unprecedented ability to search large areas of sky for faint objects. The Magellan 6.5-meter telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory was used to determine the orbit of 2012 VP113 and obtain detailed information about its surface properties.

From the amount of sky searched, Sheppard and Trujillo determine that about 900 objects with orbits like Sedna and 2012 VP113 with sizes larger than 1000 km may exist and that the total population of the inner Oort cloud is likely bigger than that of the Kuiper Belt and main asteroid belt.

"Some of these inner Oort cloud objects could rival the size of Mars or even Earth. This is because many of the inner Oort cloud objects are so distant that even very large ones would be too faint to detect with current technology", says Sheppard.

Both Sedna and 2012 VP113 were found near their closest approach to the Sun, but they both have orbits that go out to hundreds of AU, at which point they would be too faint to discover. In fact, the similarity in the orbits found for Sedna, 2012 VP113 and a few other objects near the edge of the Kuiper Belt suggests that an unknown massive perturbing body may be shepherding these objects into these similar orbital configurations. Sheppard and Trujillo suggest a Super Earth or an even larger object at hundreds of AU could create the shepherding effect seen in the orbits of these objects, which are too distant to be perturbed significantly by any of the known planets.

There are three competing theories for how the inner Oort cloud might have formed. As more objects are found, it will be easier to narrow down which of these theories is most likely accurate. One theory is that a rogue planet could have been tossed out of the giant planet region and could have perturbed objects out of the Kuiper Belt to the inner Oort cloud on its way out. This planet could have been ejected or still be in the distant today. The second theory is that a close stellar encounter could put objects into the inner Oort cloud region. A third theory suggests inner Oort cloud objects are captured extra-solar planets from other stars that were near our Sun in its birth cluster.

The outer Oort cloud is distinguished from the inner Oort cloud because in the outer Oort cloud, starting around 1500 AU, the gravity from other nearby stars perturbs the orbits of the objects, causing objects in the outer Oort cloud to have orbits that change drastically over time. Many of the comets we see were objects that were perturbed out of the outer Oort cloud. Inner Oort cloud objects are not highly affected by the gravity of other stars and thus have more stable and more primordial orbits.

Explore further: Scientist finds medium sized Kuiper belt object less dense than water

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13156

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philw1776
3.8 / 5 (4) Mar 26, 2014
"From the amount of sky searched, Sheppard and Trujillo determine that about 900 objects with orbits like Sedna and 2012 VP113 with sizes larger than 1000 km may exist"

This is probably so but I have problems with an extrapolation made based on "We searched X square degrees, found ONE, so therefore there must be..."

Looking forward for more Oort Cloud objects. Maybe some with rings? :)
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2014
In fact, the similarity in the orbits found for Sedna, 2012 VP113 and a few other objects near the edge of the Kuiper Belt suggests that an unknown massive perturbing body may be shepherding these objects into these similar orbital configurations. Sheppard and Trujillo suggest a Super Earth or an even larger object at hundreds of AU could create the shepherding effect seen in the orbits of these objects, which are too distant to be perturbed significantly by any of the known planets.
I expect there will be much play made of this comment. 26,000,000 year orbit anyone?
LagomorphZero
3.3 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2014
and thats why planet X theories never really die
Caliban
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2014
"From the amount of sky searched, Sheppard and Trujillo determine that about 900 objects with orbits like Sedna and 2012 VP113 with sizes larger than 1000 km may exist"

This is probably so but I have problems with an extrapolation made based on "We searched X square degrees, found ONE, so therefore there must be..."

Looking forward for more Oort Cloud objects. Maybe some with rings? :)


Well --saying that "there could be" isn't the same as saying "there are". But it would seem to be at least likely that there are at least a few more of these objects out there.
Caliban
5 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2014
I expect there will be much play made of this comment. 26,000,000 year orbit anyone?


Maggnus,

Yeah, there's that, given the periodicity of terrestrial cataclysmic/extinction events...but, with the complexity of orbital mechanics, this could just as easily be due to a handful of smaller bodies' influence upon the oort cloud objects as to that of a super-earth size planetary mass. I wonder if a Nemisis-class planet could actually remain gravitationally bound to the Sun if its orbit were large enough to require 26MY per cycle?

Or some combination of the two. Probably a good idea to make an exhaustive search, just to be sure...if I'm not mistaken, we're getting pretty close to that window...
Caliban
4.6 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2014
and thats why planet X theories never really die


Can't be ruled out out until it can definitively be ruled out. In this particular case, a number of objects out there could certainly explain a few peculiarities.

Don't mistake my saying this as an assertion of fact.

Just attempting to keep an open mind in the face of an open question.

Plus, it's nice to have an alternative hypothesis other than some EU/AWT onesizefitsall TOE.
Jizby
Mar 26, 2014
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Dr_toad
Mar 26, 2014
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Jizby
Mar 26, 2014
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Maggnus
4 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2014
Yeah, there's that, given the periodicity of terrestrial cataclysmic/extinction events...but, with the complexity of orbital mechanics,
You make some good points. The periodicity has recently been revised slightly to 27My over a 500My period (Merlott & Baumbach 2013) but they also all but eliminated the possibility of it arising from a "Nemesis" type star nor a "Nibiru" planet, and for exactly the reason you've alluded to here; such an object could not maintain that level of periodicity due to gravitational perturbations.

The last such occurrence was 11 Mya, so no worry of it happening again soon. The big question remains though: what causes it?
Dr_toad
Mar 26, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
GSwift7
4.5 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2014
80 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun


If you round off to 8 minutes for light to reach the earth from the sun, then that makes around 10.7 HOURS for light to reach this object, at it's COSEST approach to the sun.

I have problems with an extrapolation made based on "We searched X square degrees, found ONE, so therefore there must be


lol, I was thinking the same thing. That sounds a lot like a handful of other fields where sample sizes are woefully small.

26,000,000 year orbit anyone?


wow, really? From the wiki page on this object:

Orbital period 4220 yr


unless that's a typo, it doesn't work for your conspiracy theory.
Caliban
4 / 5 (4) Mar 26, 2014
26,000,000 year orbit anyone?

wow, really? From the wiki page on this object:

Orbital period 4220 yr

unless that's a typo, it doesn't work for your conspiracy theory.


@G,

What wiki page did your search turn up --results for Nibiru?

Give us a link, please.

And to what conspiracy do you refer?
Lex Talonis
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2014
Nibiru?

Jesus and his 12 boyfriends?

Krishna riding shot gun on the stagecoach?

Which celestial theory holds the most weight?
GSwift7
3.3 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2014
@G,

What wiki page did your search turn up --results for Nibiru?

Give us a link, please


I googled "2012 VP113 wiki" and it gave me the following wiki page, which is obviously the same object in the story above:

http://en.wikiped...12_VP113

seems like a short orbital period to me, but that's what it says as of right now. Seems to me that the number they show should be followed by the word "million" or maybe hundred million? I did say that it could be a typo.

And to what conspiracy do you refer?


planet x. didn't mean to sound that confrontational, sorry.
Sinister1812
4 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2014
What's more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.


Are they serious? Well, they can't rule it out until they have got proof that it isn't there.
Maggnus
4.1 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2014
26,000,000 year orbit anyone?


wow, really? From the wiki page on this object:

Orbital period 4220 yr


unless that's a typo, it doesn't work for your conspiracy theory.


My 26My orbit comment was tongue in cheek and a nod towards the conspiracy theories regarding Planet X and the periodic extinction events initially discovered by Raul et al in 1984.

In other words: I was kidding.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2014
@Caliban: The hypothesis that there is a periodicity to extinctions were rejected by data 2008, when enough of the fossil record was uncovered. Using the -08 set, scientists could show with autocorrelation that no periodicity was present. "Furthermore, the lack of any significant autocorrelation in the data is inconsistent with macroevolutionary
theories of periodicity or self-organized criticality." [ http://www.pnas.o...full.pdf ]

Reversely, the old claims were based on poor statistical models IMO. So it isn't very surprising that they were wrong.

This non-existence of periodicity means that Milankovich cycles, which are periodic, doesn't affect diversity. Supercontinental cycles are likely too irregular. But here it doesn't need to mean that a shepherder doesn't exist, rather that its influence on the inner system is small.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2014
There is now 9-11 detached objects [ http://en.wikiped...d_object]http://en.wikiped...d_object[/url] ], at least 9 of which "have arguments of perihelion clustered near 340°" [ http://en.wikiped...d_object]http://en.wikiped...d_object[/url] ]. That is 0.998 likelihood from a toss up clustering/no clustering, superficially indicating a shepherder.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2014
"One theory is that a rogue planet could have been tossed out of the giant planet region and could have perturbed objects out of the Kuiper Belt to the inner Oort cloud on its way out."

Forgive me, but this theory sounds absolutely biblical: Fallen planet tossed out of the solar system and its recruited minions...ha!

Jizby
Mar 27, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2014
The hypothesis that there is a periodicity to extinctions were rejected by data 2008, when enough of the fossil record was uncovered. Using the -08 set, scientists could show with autocorrelation that no periodicity was present.
All true, until the study by Melott & Baumbach 2013 (see here: http://www.techno...panion/) gave new life to the idea. They conducted an exhaustive and detailed study of extinction data covering the last 500My and discovered a periodicity of 27My to something like a 5-sigma confidence. It's one study mind you, but they certainly appear to have been thorough.

From an article about it:

"But the data indicates that the extinctions occur every 27 million years, as regular as clockwork. "Fossil data, which motivated the idea of Nemesis, now militate against it," say Melott and Bambuch."
Jizby
Mar 27, 2014
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Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2014
26,000,000 year orbit anyone?


wow, really? From the wiki page on this object:

"Orbital period 4220 yr"


That is the orbit of 2012 VP113, not the shepherd.

The aphelion of VP is 446AU which is roughly where the shepherd would have to lie at present. An orbit of 27 million years needs a semi-major axis of 90,000 AU so even if the shepherd were at perihelion, it's aphelion would be at 179,554 AU or 2.8 light years. That's unlikely to be stable (though not impossible).
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (9) Mar 27, 2014

Apparently, there is still lotta place for research and this discussion cannot solve it here.
True, but your adding of sciency-sounding space jargon does more to obfuscate the issues than careful, reasoned arguments discussing the actual science. You really have a thing for dark matter, and your words are chosen in such a manner as to reflect a knowledge base your actual understanding of the subject does not support.

Tell me Zeph - have you found even one bonafide, educated, working researcher who agrees with any of your ideas?

Of course, you will just use the fact there are none (as in zero, nil, nada, zippo) as some evidence that you are being repressed.

The truth of the matter, however, is that you don't know enough to understand that you don't know enough to challenge the theories you claim to overthrow.

I don't know why you bother. You have been told by people much smarter and better trained than I am why you're wrong, but you just blithely carry on. Sad really.
Returners
1 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2014
22nd century BC (4200years ago)

http://en.wikiped...ntury_BC

Epic of Gilgamesh written, Biblical Flood According to Hebrew Calendar.

Regardless, if there is any truth at all to the stories, at least in principle, then the time period matches closely the previous closest approach of this object...

I had a hunch that it was the same century, but wasn't sure, so I looked it up on google.

There's no real way to correlate an object like this to disasters or legends of disasters, but it is nevertheless interesting that it's orbital period is exactly consistent with the Biblical Flood's recorded date and the writing of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Returners
1.8 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2014
Forgive me, but this theory sounds absolutely biblical: Fallen planet tossed out of the solar system and its recruited minions...ha!


Super-Jupiter sized Rogue Planets have already been observed in a few cases, so it's known that this can definitely happen.

I don't really want to think about the consequences of something that large entering the solar system. Even on a one-time fly-by I think we'd all go extinct.
Jizby
Mar 27, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Jizby
Mar 27, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Returners
1 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2014
The last such occurrence was 11 Mya, so no worry of it happening again soon. The big question remains though: what causes it?


Assuming dating is semi-reliable, I'd say should study a solar system model for peculiar alignments at those time intervals. The model needs to be detailed enough to include all known massive objects: asteroids and every small moon, and every known comet and dwarf planet.

Model without "additional" kuiper belt objects and inner oort cloud look for any peculuarities.

Then model various "guesses" of possible distributions of objects in those ranges, and see if any pattern of disruption emerges on about that time scale.

I'm thinking resonances or alignments could somehow add up to disturb some comets or moons, without the need for very large unknown planets.

You'd need to be able to run the model very, very accurately for 500 million years worth of model time for each set of initial conditions, looking for 27million year pattern....
GSwift7
5 / 5 (8) Mar 27, 2014
In other words: I was kidding.


fair enough. you got me.

But here it doesn't need to mean that a shepherder doesn't exist, rather that its influence on the inner system is small


Good point. Just because there isn't a repeating pattern, that doesn't mean there wasn't at least one catastrophic event caused by some unknown body. Realistically, would you expect it to hit tiny little earth with a direct hit every time it goes around?

If we ever do find a planet-sized object out there, it would be a real wow moment. It would be a prime target for a probe mission, as it might be a well-preserved example of early stages of planet formation.

With our rapidly increasing ability to see smaller and darker objects at greater distances, we'll be able to either find them or rule them out in the relatively near future. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but perhaps, if the funding is available to build the right telescopes.
bearly
1 / 5 (11) Mar 27, 2014
If it is a dwarf plant then they should go ahead and name it Biden because that idiot has a dwarf brain. Then they could find another one and name it Obama.
grondilu
3.8 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2014
What's more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.


I'm confused. Wasn't there an article recently that precisely ruled out the possibility of a major object beyond Neptune (Nemesis, Planet X...) from the WISE data or something?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (8) Mar 27, 2014
I have problems with an extrapolation made based on "We searched X square degrees, found ONE, so therefore there must be
lol, I was thinking the same thing. That sounds a lot like a handful of other fields where sample sizes are woefully small.
But the authors don't say that.

"about 900 objects with orbits like Sedna and 2012 VP113 with sizes larger than 1000 km MAY exist"

-That's MAY be, not MUST be. Can you tell the difference? 'May be' means within the range of results of their statistical analysis.
The truth of the matter, however, is that you don't know enough to understand that you don't know enough to challenge the theories you claim to overthrow
Actually he has shown that he knows a great deal more science than most anybody here, including of course you. Saying he doesn't doesn't make it so, its only annoying and space-wasting.

It also doesn't mean he is any more right in his theories, only potentially more self-deluded.
Maggnus
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2014
Actually he has shown that he knows a great deal more science than most anybody here, including of course you. Saying he doesn't doesn't make it so, its only annoying and space-wasting.

It also doesn't mean he is any more right in his theories, only potentially more self-deluded.


Awww isn't that cute, Otto is trying to start a slap fight! Do you understand the word hypocrite?

Of course you would think that Zeph has more knowledge than others on this site, look at how little you know. Why, I bet you think that cold fusion is possible too!
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2014
Its discoverer, Michael Brown of Caltech, noted that Sedna's location seemed to defy reasoning: "Sedna shouldn't be there", Brown said. "There's no way to put Sedna where it is


Random collisions with other objects could produce just about any orbit. Sedna is so far out that it could be surrounded by a field of smaller debris/companion objects, but we wouldn't see them from here (with existing telescopes).

The idea of such an abundant supply of primordial material at the edge of our solar system is exciting to me. If we ever want to live in deep space, the kuiper belt and ort cloud could be a nice place to live, with an almost limitless supply of fuel, water and raw materials, all easily accessible in shallow gravity wells. You could even set up an eliptical orbit that goes back into the solar system for occasional trade.
Maggnus
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2014
I'm confused. Wasn't there an article recently that precisely ruled out the possibility of a major object beyond Neptune (Nemesis, Planet X...) from the WISE data or something?


Not exactly, they said that there is no object larger than about the size of Neptune out to about 10,000 AU. An article is here: http://www.space....tem.html
Jizby
Mar 27, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
yyz
5 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2014
"Looking forward for more Oort Cloud objects. Maybe some with rings?"

While not an Oort Cloud object, pretty amazing nonetheless: http://www.eso.or...eso1410/
Scroofinator
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2014
It's pretty crazy that both Sedna and VP113 come to perihelion at about the same time. In the orbit diagram it looks like they will get extremely close. I wonder when precisely this will occur? Would this close pass create a small (possibly detectable) gravitational wave?
roblabs
3.5 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2014


Good point. Just because there isn't a repeating pattern, that doesn't mean there wasn't at least one catastrophic event caused by some unknown body. Realistically, would you expect it to hit tiny little earth with a direct hit every time it goes around?


One of the best points I've seen on this subject.
no fate
4 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2014
The implications of finding a massive body this far out are pretty cool.
Remember when the solar system was a 9 planet stucture with an asteroid belt, a kuiper belt and an as yet unobserved cloud of icy "debris" left over from it's formation? Our suns planetary family is growing pretty fast, I would rather find a way to send a probe to this one than anything inside Pluto's orbit...Europa excepted.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (3) Mar 28, 2014
Good point. Just because there isn't a repeating pattern, that doesn't mean there wasn't at least one catastrophic event caused by some unknown body. Realistically, would you expect it to hit tiny little earth with a direct hit every time it goes around?
One of the best points I've seen on this subject.


Well, a quibble. The theory is that the unknown body disturbs objects in the Oort cloud, causing a bunch of them to change their orbits and come cascading into the inner solar system. The object itself doesn't hit anything. So if you believe the theory to be true, little ole Earth (and every other planetary body in the inner solar system) faces a hailstorm, not a single pitch.

Stavanger
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2014
MASS RELAYS ARE REAL!! I knew it!