New dwarf planet found near Neptune with UBC's help

A new dwarf planet orbiting near Neptune has been discovered by an international team of researchers, including astronomers from UBC.

The dwarf planet — currently designated as 2015 RR245 — was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. The telescope took three photos at hourly intervals focusing on a certain point in the sky near Neptune. These photos revealed a previously-unidentified bright dot that moved slightly to the right after each shot. This discovery was made by the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which scans through the solar system to discover trans-Neptunian objects such as dwarf planets.

“This is the biggest object we have seen in three years of searching,” said Brett Gladman, a professor of astronomy at UBC involved in the research.

Although not much information can be confirmed about RR245 this early in the research phase, Gladman predicts that its surface mostly consists of various different kinds of ices — methane, ammonia, water — and its diameter is about 700 kilometres, which is about a third of the size of Pluto and less than a tenth of the size of Earth. 

What’s perhaps most noticeable about RR245 is its massive orbit — it is currently estimated that it takes around 700 years for it to complete one rotation around the sun. This means that it goes out pretty far away from the sun, thus leading to some pretty intense temperature changes.

“There’s a huge temperature difference between its closest approach from the sun and its furthest distance from the sun, so it’s going to be interesting to try and study the surface of this object,” said Gladman. He estimates that it will reach its closest distance to Earth in 2096.

After Gladman and the rest of OSSOS get a better understanding of the orbit which the dwarf planet takes, they can submit a proper name for the planet to the International Astronomical Union. 

“The precise orbit isn’t known yet and therefore depending on which type of orbit it is, we would use a different naming scheme.”

Whether or not you can play Pokemon Go on this planet is currently unknown, but if there’s anywhere that you’re going to find Mew, it’s there.