Pluto gets less lonely as another dwarf planet is discovered

(WGNO) –  Our solar system is a little less lonely after it was announced this week that another dwarf planet resides in the farthest reaches of our solar system.

Dubbed ‘2014 UZ224’, the object was first discovered in 2014 by a team from the University of Michigan led by Dr. David Gerdes.  It typically takes about two to three years after the observation to make a dwarf planet official so hopefully in the near future 2014 UZ224 will have a much more catchy name.

Dr. David Gerdes, Professor of Astronomy - University of Michigan

Dr. David Gerdes: Astrophysicist – University of Michigan

The newly announced member of our solar system has a large elliptical orbit and is the third farthest object known to orbit our Sun. It’s roughly 330 miles wide and roughly 8.5 billion miles away from the sun at the moment.

The elliptical orbit means the new dwarf planet will eventually be a lot closer, and then later a lot farther, from the sun. The closest approach will put it about 3.5 billion miles, or about the same distance as Pluto, and at its farthest it will be 16.7 billion miles! This wide ranging orbit takes a little more than 1,100 years to complete. That means the last time 2014 UZ224 was in this part of its orbit was in the Middle Ages after the reign of Charlemagne!

Courtesy: NASA, JPL, Horizons

Courtesy: NASA, JPL, Horizons

The discovery puts it in the same category as other dwarf planets in our solar system: Pluto, Eris, Ceres, Haumea and Makemake. It was actually the discovery of Eris that eventually led to the term and categorization of dwarf planets. This official definition of both ‘planet’ and ‘dwarf planet’ ended up demoting Pluto from its planet status and refiling it within the rank of dwarf planets.