Astronomers Find the Most Distant Known Object in the Solar System

Nicknamed “Farout,” the world is 120 times farther from the Sun than Earth.

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Dec 17 2018, 10:19pm

Artist concept of 'Farout.' Image: Illustration by Roberto Molar Candanosa, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science

Scientists have discovered the most distant object ever observed in the solar system, the International Astronomical Union announced on Monday.

This minor planet is located about 120 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and measures roughly 500 kilometers (310 miles) in diameter. It is officially called 2018 VG18, but is nicknamed “Farout,” as in, “far out,” as in, “ whoa, dude.” It’s pinkish in color, suggesting an icy outer crust.

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Discovery images of 2018 VG18 from the Subaru Telescope on Nov. 10, 2018. Image: Scott S. Sheppard and David Tholen

"All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color," said University of Hawaii astronomer David Tholen, who helped find the object, in a statement. "Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun."

Tholen is part of a team that specializes in spotting these distant solar system objects, which includes Scott Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science and Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University.

The researchers first captured images of Farout on November 10 with the Japanese Subaru Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and followed up with closer observations in December, using the Magellan Telescope at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory.

Read More: Search for Planet Nine Turns Up Dwarf Planet at the Edge of Our Solar System

The same trio of scientists recently announced the discovery of another distant object, nicknamed “Goblin,” which orbits about twice as far from the Sun as Pluto. Farout, by comparison, orbits at three times Pluto’s orbital distance.

The team is turning up these farflung objects as part of the hunt for a hypothetical Neptune-scale world called Planet Nine, which is known only by its apparent gravitational tug on outer solar system objects.

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