Astronomers confirm the orbit of the most distant object ever discovered in our solar system, nicknamed “Farfarout”


A team of astronomers has confirmed the orbit of a distant planetoid in the farthest reaches of our solar system, appropriately nicknamed “Farfarout.”

The minor planet, officially designated 2018 AG37, is almost four times farther from the sun than Pluto. It is the most distant planetoid ever detected in our solar system, the researchers announced this week.

Farfarout was first detected in 2018, beating the previous record holder, “Farout.” The team, responsible for both discoveries, has an ongoing survey to map the outdoor solar system.

After being discovered at the 8-meter Subary telescope atop Maunakea in Hawaii, astronomers used the Gemini North and Mageallan telescopes to track its orbit for the past few years. In a few more years, when its orbit has been tracked, Farfarout will receive an official name.

“The Farfarout discovery shows our growing ability to map the outer solar system and increasingly look to the edges of our solar system,” said discovery team member Scott S. Sheppard. “Only with the advances in recent years of large digital cameras in very large telescopes has it been possible to efficiently discover very distant objects like Farfarout.”

Farfarout’s average distance to the sun is 132 astronomical units, which means it is 132 times farther from the sun than Earth. For comparison, Pluto is only 39 au from the sun.

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This illustration imagines what the distant object nicknamed “Farfarout” would look like in the outer reaches of our Solar System. Farfarout is shown in the lower right, while the sun appears in the upper left. The Milky Way runs diagonally across the background.

NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / J. da Silva


Farfarout’s journey around the sun takes about 1,000 years. The planetoid, which is very faint, is estimated to be about 250 miles wide, at the small end of Tiny planets like Pluto.

“A single Farfarout orbit around the Sun takes a millennium,” said David Tholen, a member of the discovery team. “Because of this long orbital, it moves very slowly across the sky, requiring several years of observations to accurately determine its trajectory.”

Interactions with Neptune are responsible for the large, elongated orbit of the planetoid. Its orbit reaches 175 au at its most distant point and around 27 au, within the orbit of Neptune, at its closest point to the sun.

Neptune’s effects on Farfarout’s orbit also mean that the planetoid probably can’t contribute to scientists’ efforts to find a mysterious unknown planet lurking on the outskirts of the solar system.

“Farfarout’s orbital dynamics can help us understand how Neptune formed and evolved, as Farfarout was likely thrown into the outer solar system by getting too close to Neptune in the distant past,” said discovery team member Chad Trujillo. “Farfarout is likely to interact strongly with Neptune again, as their orbits continue to cross.”

Scientists believe they will eventually find the hypothetical “Planet nine. “

“Farfarout is just the tip of the iceberg of solar system objects in the very distant solar system,” Sheppard said.

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