Think Pluto is far away? Consider the newly found V774101, a pint-sized planetoid about 103 times farther away from the sun than Earth - roughly three times farther than Pluto - a new distance record for a solar system object.
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The next-closest objects, Sedna and VP113, are roughly 80 times farther from the sun than Earth, well beyond the Kuiper Belt, which Pluto and thousands of other icy bodies call home. Astronomers don't yet know if V774101 has an orbit that transits into the Kuiper Belt, or if it will be delegated as an Oort Cloud object.
"It will take a year of observations to determine if the orbit brings the object near Neptune or not," astronomer Scott Sheppard, with the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C., wrote in an email to Discovery News.
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"If it never gets closer to the sun than its current location, it would be classified as an Oort Cloud object as it is well beyond the Kuiper Belt. But if its orbit brings it to within 50 AU of the sun at some point, it would be considered a scattered Kuiper Belt object, that is an object that likely scattered off of Neptune sometime in the distant past," Sheppard said.
One AU, or astronomical unit, is the average distance between Earth and the sun.
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Based on its brightness, V774101 is expected to be between 500 and 1,000 kilometers (300- to 600 miles) in diameter, about half the size of Pluto. It was found a few weeks ago as part of an ongoing deep-sky search for distant objects in the solar system.
The discovery was unveiled at the American Astronomical Society's planetary sciences meeting underway in Maryland this week.