A New Discovery could Solve the Enigma of Planet Formation

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A new study argues that the outer sections of our solar system are filled with giant rocks, a leftover from the events that lead to the formation of the first planets.

An object that has a width of 1.3 kilometers (or 0.8 miles) has been found in the Kuiper Belt, an area filled with frozen bodies that can be found close to Neptune’s orbit. If the measurements are correct it will be the first registered Kuiper Belt Object that is so small.

Many KBOs have been spotted in the past but most of them were considerably larger. Two representatives are Ultima Thule and Pluto. The two have been explored with the help of the New Horizons, a spacecraft that was able to fly by them.

At a width of 32 kilometers (in the case of Ultima Thule) these objects are classified as mid-size. It estimated that approximately 60.000 KBO can be found in each square degree of the sky.

The newly-discovered dwarf KBO could change our perception about the formation of the planets. It is now thought young planetesimals were able to grow into objects that were wider that 1 kilometer before the expansion phase began. It is likely that the process took place near the edge of the outer solar system, a theory that could also explain the accumulation of objects which can be found in the Kuiper Belt.

KBO that are so small cannot be spotted directly, even if powerful telescopes are used. The discovery was made by a small team of researchers from Japan which used an interesting method that involved the use of two modest telescopes. The researchers observed two thousand stars and focused on the ones that dimmed at some point, believing that the phenomenon was caused by a KBO that passed in front of the stars in question.

The project will continue as the researchers hope to learn more about Kuiper Belt Objects.