The Goblin: Newly discovered dwarf planet hints at expansion of solar system

Ismael LynchOct 05, 2018

The object, which researchers have nicknamed "the Goblin", was discovered as part of astronomy's hunt for unknown dwarf planets and Planet X, aka "Planet Nine", an as-yet-undiscovered world that could have a mass about 10 times that of Earth.

The weird orbits of those worlds are consistent with the hypothesis that a distant planet larger than Earth, known as Planet Nine or Planet X, is exerting its gravitational influence. Follow-up observations at the Magellan telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona, were obtained in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, to measure 2015 TG387's orbit.

"We are only just now uncovering what the very outer solar system might look like and what might be out there", said Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC and a member of the team. A full report has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal. At about 300 km (186 miles) wide, it is on the small side of being a dwarf planet. Pluto sits at an average of 40 AU from the sun.

These objects were first noticed in October, 2015, from a Japanese telescope atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii.

2015 TG387 was discovered about 80 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, a measurement defined as the distance between the Earth and Sun.

The Goblin-formally known as 2015 TG38-sits more that twice as far from the Sun as Pluto does, even at its closest approach.

The Goblin got its nickname because the scientists first observed it around Halloween 2015. After all, scientist have only discovered 14 objects such as TG387.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg", Sheppard said in an interview.

And the find reinforces the idea that there are likely many more objects like it in our solar system orbiting out of sight. It takes about 40,000 years for a complete walk around the Sun (its year) and 99% of this time is too light to be seen from Earth. But only with additional observations did they realize how far out TG387 really is.

As of right now, we only know of a handful of these so-called "Trans-Neptunian Objects", those that live out beyond Neptune's orbit.

It is one of the most distant bodies ever identified within the sun's gravitational range. Most follow eccentric orbits that loop relatively near to the sun before taking them to the edge of the Kuiper Belt some 50 AU out and beyond. Smaller objects like the Goblin have to dance around Planet Nine, or else they would collide with it or be ejected from their orbits. "We don't even know the color of the object; we haven't gotten any spectroscopy on the object yet, or anything like that". He's interested in the Goblin because it "always stays well beyond the giant planet region", referring to the lineup of our solar system's four biggest planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Astronomers have narrowed down the search area for Planet Nine but have not yet found it.

In essence, their orbits are arranged in such a way that it seems like there's another large planet tugging them into alignment.

Sheppard says that The Goblin's orbit fits exactly into their models of how distant objects should behave if Planet X exists, further bolstering the notion that another massive world may be hiding in our solar system. "These simulations do not prove that there is another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there".

Sheppard said the faraway objects are "like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X". He anticipates astronomers will be able to detect only another dozen or so objects in the next few years of the survey.

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