Tech UPTechnologyThey locate 100 minor planets in the confines of...

They locate 100 minor planets in the confines of the solar system

Although Neptune is the planet furthest from the solar system (remember that Pluto is a dwarf planet), that does not mean that there is nothing else in those parts of the solar system. About 3,000 trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are known to travel even further, from small asteroids and comets to dwarf planets like Pluto. There is even the possibility that larger, yet undiscovered worlds lurk in these distant shadows (like Planet Nine and other undiscovered planets).

Now, a team of American astrophysicists has discovered, thanks to data from the Dark Energy Survey (DES), 300 trans-Neptunian objects, minor planets located in the confines of the solar system. Of all of them, 100 were hitherto unknown.

DES’s goal, after six years of data collection, is to understand the nature of dark energy by collecting high-precision images of the southern sky looking for supernovae in distant galaxies. While it was not specifically designed to identify trans-Neptunian objects , its breadth and depth of coverage (500 square degrees) made it an expert at finding objects beyond Neptune. “The amount of TNO you can find depends on the amount of sky you look at and what is the weakest you can find,” says Gary Bernstein, co-author of the paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

To find supernovae, DES compares images of the same galaxies taken at different times to see which ones have changed in brightness . Then you have to rule out the possibility that the light in the image is coming from something much closer.

Projects designed to search for TNOs, or smaller but closer asteroids, take images only a few hours apart, so if something is found to be moving, its orbit can be established.



“Dedicated TNO surveys have a way of looking at object movement, and it’s easy to track them,” say the authors. “One of the key things we did in this document was find a way to get those movements back.”

From 7 billion initial points detected by the software in the first four years, they were narrowed down to a list of around 400 candidates (ignoring the points that were in the same place for several nights, which were probably stars, galaxies, supernovae and other objects) that were seen during at least six nights of observation. “We have this list of candidates, but then we have to make sure that our candidates are really real,” said Pedro Bernardinelli, also a co-author of the study.

After adjusting the analysis methods several times, the team was able to identify a total of 316 TNOs in the data. Of these, 139 objects have never been seen before. These objects were at a distance of about 30 astronomical units (AU), which puts them close to the orbit of Neptune, up to more than 150 AU.

Some of the better known objects on the edges of our solar system beyond Neptune include the dwarf planet Makemake (pronounced mah-kay mah-kay), and the farthest world we’ve ever explored, Arrokoth.

The researchers say that in the future they plan to apply the method to the entire DES data set from these six years, while looking for fainter objects that might have been lost in the first search. They estimate that this could reveal up to 500 new TNOs and possibly – if there is one – the elusive Planet Nine.

Referencia: Pedro H. Bernardinelli, Gary M. Bernstein, Masao Sako, Tongtian Liu, William R. Saunders, Tali Khain, Hsing Wen Lin, David W. Gerdes, Dillon Brout, Fred C. Adams, Matthew Belyakov, Aditya Inada Somasundaram, Lakshay Sharma, Jennifer Locke, Kyle Franson, Juliette C. Becker, Kevin Napier, Larissa Markwardt, James Annis, T. M. C. Abbott, S. Avila, D. Brooks, D. L. Burke, A. Carnero Rosell, M. Carrasco Kind, F. J. Castander, L. N. da Costa, J. De Vicente, S. Desai, H. T. Diehl, P. Doel, S. Everett, B. Flaugher, J. García-Bellido, D. Gruen, R. A. Gruendl, J. Gschwend, G. Gutierrez, D. L. Hollowood, D. J. James, M. W. G. Johnson, M. D. Johnson, E. Krause, N. Kuropatkin, M. A. G. Maia, M. March, R. Miquel, F. Paz-Chinchón, A. A. Plazas, A. K. Romer, E. S. Rykoff, C. Sánchez, E. Sanchez, V. Scarpine, S. Serrano, I. Sevilla-Noarbe, M. Smith, F. Sobreira, E. Suchyta, M. E. C. Swanson, G. Tarle, A. R. Walker, W. Wester, Y. Zhang. Trans-Neptunian Objects Found in the First Four Years of the Dark Energy Survey. The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 2020; 247 (1): 32 DOI: 10.3847/1538-4365/ab6bd8

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