On Tuesday, a team of researchers confirmed the addition of a new dwarf planet in our solar system. The discovery, currently being referred to as 2014 UZ224, was found by the team as they analyzed distant objects and stars in the galaxy.

2014 UZ224, was announced by the team of researchers in the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Electronic Circulator on Tuesday. As they explained the process of their discovery. The dwarf planet discovery was announced by the team of Michigan researchers in the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Electronic Circulator on Tuesday. As they explained its characteristics and the process towards the discovery.

Scientists in Michigan have found a new dwarf planet in our solar system. Image Credit: NPR

The planetoid takes almost 1,100 years to orbit the sun, since its located 8.5 billion miles away from it and is 330 miles wide. By discovering 2014 UZ224, researchers add a new name to a continuous list of dwarf planets that has been upgrading on the past decade.

A friend for Pluto 

Dwarf planets are considered mass objects in space, orbiting the sun, with a structure that doesn’t fit the category of planet nor satellite. The term ‘dwarf planet’ was introduced to the world in 2006, after the discovery of Eris and its comparison in size to former- planet Pluto.

When astronomers discovered that dwarf planet Eris, was bigger in size than Pluto, the International Astronomical Union updated their concept of a planet’s structure and threw Pluto to a new category dubbed “dwarf.”

The recent discovery of  2014 UZ224, might prompt the Astronomical Union to perform another review on dwarf planets since it’s almost half of Pluto’s size, as lead researcher of the study David Gerdes explains.

Gerdes is an astrophysicists and astronomy professor at the University of Michigan. He is also the responsible for the Dark Energy Camera project located in Cerro Tololo, Chile.

Prof. Gerdes takes part in a large study known as the ‘Dark Energy Survey,’ which aims to map out the universe and discover the mysteries within it, as the Washington Post explains, its primary objective is to identify the reason behind the universe’s acceleration.

To accomplish its goals, the survey needed a high-angle camera that was able to capture the distant objects in the universe. That’s when the participants of the survey built the wide-angle camera in Chile, which obtains images of our sky and universe.

Based on observations over the past three years, astronomers know that the Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 UZ224 has a highly elliptical, 1,140-year-long orbit that stretches nearly four times farther from the Sun than Pluto can ever be. Image Credit: NASA / JPL / Horizons

Professor Gerdes had a participating group of Michigan students at Cerro Tololo a few years back, and he decided to put the student’s perception to a question by providing them with a special assignment.

The undergraduate team of students had to determine different objects hiding in our solar system, to do so, they had to analyze the pictures taken by the wide-angle camera and see which dots of light were in fact moving.

“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,” explained Prof. Gerdes in a statement to NPR.

The assignment could have been though as easy if the students only needed to compare pictures taken every night by the camera and identify the moving dots. However, the wide angle camera took pictures every three to five days and even more.

“We often have a single observation of the thing, on one night and then two weeks later one observation, then five nights and four months later another observation,” said Gerdes to NPR, as he explained the challenge of the assignment.

Gerdes initially thought that the group of students would join the moving dots as they identified objects known in our solar system, such as planets or satellites. However, the undergraduate team identified something that others astronomers had missed.

After the first assignment Gerdes and his, now team of researcher/students, took almost two years to track the orbit of the recently found dwarf planet and discovered the slow orbit that 2014 UZ224 had.

The International Astronomical Union still needs to determine if the recent discovery fits the category of ‘dwarf planet,’ to then assign a name that joins the list of newly found planetoids, such as Makemake, Sedna, and Eris, all neighbors of previously known Pluto.

Meanwhile, Gerdes and his team have a new objective to complete, the team is looking for the infamous ‘Planet 9’ a rumor that started after the California Institute of Technology assured that they had found a new giant and icy planet that was hiding in our solar system.

According to the initial rumor, Planet nine would have ten times the mass of our Earth and is located passing Pluto in a distant location. Gerdes ensured that his “hunt is on.”

Source: NPR