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Guest Toby Cope

New planet found: 2003 UB313

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Guest Toby Cope

Astronomers in the United States have announced the discovery of the 10th planet to orbit our Sun.

The largest object found in our Solar System since Neptune was discovered in 1846, it was first seen in 2003 but has only now been confirmed as a planet.

Designated 2003 UB313, it is about 3,000km across, a world of rock and ice and somewhat larger than Pluto.

Scientists say it is three times as far away as Pluto, in an orbit at an angle to the orbits of the other planets.

Astronomers think that at some point in its history Neptune likely flung it into its highly-inclined 44 degree orbit.

It is currently 97 Earth-Sun distances away - more than twice Pluto's average distance from the Sun.

Its discoverers are Michael Brown of Caltech, Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii and David Rabinowitz of Yale University.

David Rabinowitz told the BBC News website: "It has been a remarkable day and a remarkable year. 2003 UB313 is probably larger than Pluto. It is fainter than Pluto, but three times farther away.

"Brought to the same distance from the Sun as Pluto, it would be brighter. So today the world knows that Pluto is not unique. There are other Plutos, just farther out in the solar system where they are a little harder to find."

It was picked up using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory and the 8-metre Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea.

Chad Trujillo told the BBC News website: "I feel extremely lucky to be part of a discovery as exciting as this. It's not every day that you find something Pluto-sized or larger!"

"The spectra that we took at the Gemini Observatory are particularly interesting because it shows that the surface of 2003 UB313 is very similar to that of Pluto."

It was first seen 21 October 2003, but didn't see it move in the sky until looking at the same area 15 months later on 8 January 2005.

The researchers say they tried looking for it with the Spitzer Space Telescope which is sensitive to heat radiation, and didn't detect it.

This gives them an upper limit of its size of 3,000 km, they say. The lower limit still makes it larger than Pluto.

The discovery of 2003 UB313 comes just after the announcement of the finding of 2003 EL61, which appears to be a little smaller than Pluto.

Quite an acheivement! :D

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Makes us question what else could be out there! I heard about the discovery back in '03, but had actually forgotten about it until now. I don't think it will be in the primary school curriculum any time soon though.

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Guest Toby Cope

I wonder if they'll start teaching about it when we learn about the Solar System!?

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