Astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet lurking in the icy depths of our solar system.
The 330 mile-wide rock orbits the sun once every 1,100 years from a distance of 8.5 billion miles – nearly 100 times further out than Earth
David Gerdes, an astronomer at the University of Michigan, led the team which discovered 2014 UZ224.
He tasked undergraduate students with analysing pictures of the solar system and beyond captured by the Dark Energy Camera.
Stars are so far away that they barely move in the pictures, but the position of planets changes every day, Gerdes told NPR: “We often just have a single observation of the thing, on one night.
“And then two weeks later one observation, and then five nights later another observation, and four months later another observation. So the connecting-the-dots problem is much more challenging.”
The team created software to automate the process. Gerdes thinks the tech could now be used to make an even more important discovery.
Speaking to NPR, he said he was excited about the prospect of his team finding Planet Nine, a planet ten times more massive than Earth which is altering the orbits of celestial bodies beyond Neptune:
“I’m excited about our chances of finding it. Of course I’m happy for humanity if someone else finds it, it would be the most exciting astronomical discovery in our lifetime, I think.”