A groundbreaking study by a team of astronomers was published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. They have identified 139 previously unknown minor planets beyond the orbit of Neptune. The researchers used a computer algorithm to narrow down 7 billion astronomical objects of different varieties to 22 million. This number was eventually reduced down to 316 minor planets, 139 of which had not been documented before. These minor planets lie in the outer reaches of the solar system and are referred to as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). They are located between around 30 to 90 astronomical units from the sun. An astronomical unit is equal to roughly the distance from Earth to the sun, or approximately 150 million km. In total, scientists know of only about 3,000 TNOs. The best-known TNO is the dwarf planet Pluto. The researchers believe these findings could help shed some light on several of the universe’s biggest mysteries. “There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the solar system and aren’t there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet,” said Gary Bernstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the lead authors of the study.
Chris Hong Copy Editor
1. How many unknown minor planets were identified recently?
2. What does TNO stand for?
3. What is the best-known TNO?
1. Why do you think Pluto is the best-known TNO?
2. How important is the research of TNOs to humans?
3. What do you think about the idea of giant planets that are no longer in the solar system?
4. How would the discovery of new massive planets impact our world?