Conceptual art of the newly discovered KBO. Image: Ko Arimatsu
Scientists discovered a small object in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune, a kilometer-long world that could shed light on how the planets formed in the early days of the solar system.
The discovery – which marks the first time a world smaller than ten kilometers has been detected in this part of the solar system – appears to require high-resolution telescopes such as the 10-meter Keck Observatory in Hawaii. However, it was actually discovered by two modest amateur telescopes, according to research published on Monday. Astronomy of Nature.
"This is a real victory for small projects," lead author of the study, Ko Arimatsu, an astronomer at Japan's National Astronomical Observatory, said in a statement. Arimatsu coordinates the OASES (Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipity Event) project that detected the new Kuiper. object (KBO).
"Our team had less than 0.3 percent of the budget for major international projects," he added. "We do not even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope! Still, we have been able to make a discovery that is impossible for large projects. "
The small size and remote location of the object can help scientists learn about how the planets formed at the beginning of the solar system. Research suggests that large planets are created after reaching an inflection point that triggers a "rampant growth" phase. Small-scale worlds of miles like this have never been integrated into larger worlds and therefore offer a rare view of the original building blocks of the planets.
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Arimatsu's team detected the object using the light of distant stars to capture the silhouette of small worlds in the Kuiper belt. Sometimes called the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, this region is 30 times farther from the Sun than the Earth and contains thousands of icy objects, including Pluto.
Astronomers have used 11-inch Celestron telescopes, worth about $ 3,000 each, as well as specialized cameras and astrógrafos. They placed the telescopes on the roof of a school on the island of Miyako, Japan, located on the east coast of Taiwan.
The telescopes monitored 2000 stars for a cumulative period of 60 hours. Arimatsu and his colleagues examined the observations for signs of concealment, the term for small falls in stellar glow caused by objects passing in front of stars.
That is how they detected this tiny world with a radius of 1.3 kilometers, which has not yet been named. Pluto looks like a true giant compared to its diameter of about 2,400 kilometers.
"Great occult research, like the OASES and other small projects of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists, will reveal the nature of small outer objects of the Solar System hidden in the dark," the team wrote in the paper.
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