There’s a new icy world in the outer suburbs of the solar system. Named 2012 VP113, astronomers think the planetoid could be a member of the Oort cloud, the giant icy junkyard thought to envelop the sun (SN: 10/19/13, p. 19).
The newly found object joins the dwarf planet Sedna as the only two worlds known to orbit beyond the Kuiper belt, where Pluto resides along with hordes of ice boulders left over from the formation of the solar system.
Astronomers discovered 2012 VP113 as a spot drifting against the fixed backdrop of stars in pictures of a patch of sky taken a couple of hours apart. Continued observations at Chile’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and Las Campanas Observatory revealed a roughly 450-kilometer-wide planetoid that comes no closer to the sun than 12 billion kilometers — about 80 times farther than Earth.
Astronomers argue in the March 27 Nature that the presence of 2012 VP113 and Sedna hint at a vast unseen reservoir of icy worlds at the edge of the solar system. The two could also help researchers understand the solar system’s early development and interactions with its neighbors in the galaxy.