To date, only five dwarf planets --Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake--have been officially recognized in the Solar System, but astronomers believe that there could be at least 100 more hidden in the Kuiper Belt - a chaotic region of comets, asteroids, and small planetary bodies out beyond the orbit of Neptune. Now, an Iowa-sized dwarf planet some 13.6 billion km (8.5 billion miles) from the Sun known as 2014 UZ224 - takes 1,100 years to complete a single orbit of the Sun, has been discovered by a team of undergraduate students led by physicist David Gerdes from the University of Michigan. The object, 2014 UZ224, was identified in an enormous map of galaxies created by a project called the Dark Energy Survey (DES).
A dwarf planet has been defined by Mike Brown of Caltech, who successfully campaigned for Pluto to be downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006, as anything larger than 400 km in diameter in the Kuiper belt and is round, could qualify as a dwarf planet. 2014 UZ224 has a diameter of 530 km (329 miles).
"The transition from irregularly shaped to round objects is important in the Solar System, and, in some ways, marks the transition from an object without and with interesting geological and planetary processes occurring," adds Brown.
"Objects in the Solar System, when you observe them at one instant and then a little while later, they appear to be in a different place in the sky," Gerdes told NPR. "We often just have a single observation of the thing, on one night," said Gerdes, who's team used specialized computer software to connect the dots and confirm that what they were looking at was a single object. "And then two weeks later one observation, and then five nights later another observation, and four months later another observation. So the connecting-the-dots problem is much more challenging."
The discovery has now been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, but has yet to decide if it will enter 2014 UZ224 into the ranks of the five established dwarf planets.
Both 2014 UZ224, and the other new dwarf planet was discovered in our Solar System back in July - called 2015 RR245 - technically pass the criteria for dwarf planets.
"It's also possible some astronomers might argue that the object Gerdes found is too small to be considered a dwarf planet, but for now, he says the term applies," reports NPR.
The Daily Galaxy via NPR and Caltech
Image at top of page: View of the Sun from Pluto