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Red Dwarf: Planet beyond Neptune confirmed as third-largest in the solar system

Astronomers have confirmed that the dwarf planet 2007 OR10 is one of the largest objects beyond the orbit of Neptune that we’re currently aware of. The discovery was announced late last month, after the research team combined data from the Kepler space telescope and thermal readings from the Herschel Space Observatory. By using these two sources, the researchers were able to confirm that 2007 OR10 is larger than we first thought, with a much slower rotation period.

The dwarf planets are some of the more mysterious objects in the solar system. They’re smaller than our own Moon — the largest dwarf planet, Pluto, has less than half the surface area of the Moon and less than 20% the mass. Our ability to image the farthest reaches of the solar system are quite limited, which is why Dawn’s mission to Ceres and New Horizons’ exploration of Pluto were so significant.

2007OR10

In this case, scientists first detected 2007 OR10 in 2007, but initially thought the planet would be white. Further investigation has shown that it’s dark red, possibly the reddest object past Neptune (fellow dwarf-planet Quaoar may tie it for this honor). It’s the largest unnamed object in the solar system if the new estimates of its size prove accurate.

Scientists believe the distinctive red color of both dwarf planets is due to the presence of methane frosts, which turn red when irradiated by cosmic rays. 2007 OR10 is just large enough to retain small amounts of methane in a very thin atmosphere, which would create the dark red hue observed by scientists. Water ice has also been detected on the planetoid, which may mean it was cryovolcanically active in the distant past.

2007 OR10 is a rather interesting planet, from what we can tell. It’s much larger than originally expected and its day is an estimated 45 hours long. Meanwhile the planet’s orbit around the sun is long enough that it reached perihelion in 1857 and won’t reach aphelion (the closest and farthest points in its orbit from the sun) until 2130.

For those of you curious about how the search for Planet 9 might be related to this research and announcement, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the two. 2007 OR10 doesn’t appear in any of the literature discussing how the orbits of multiple Trans Neptunian Objects appears to have been nudged, and it wasn’t used in any of the demonstration slides. While this new research indicates that the dwarf planet is larger than was previously believed, it’s nowhere near big enough to have impacted the orbits of so many other objects — and it’s not in the estimated orbit for the as-yet-undiscovered Planet 9.

No one has officially named the planet yet, so feel free to submit your own ideas here. Dwarfy McDwarfface has already been proposed elsewhere, so try to come up with something better.

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