Newly discovered planetoid, four times farther from Sun as compared to Pluto, has been nicknamed as ‘FarFarOut’ by astronomers working on the mission. It has also been designated a less descriptive name ‘2018 AG37’. The planetoid got its official confirmation and nick-name nearly after two years of its discovery. It was discovered in January 2018. Approval of FarFarOut was made by official body for observing and reporting on minor planets – the Minor Planet Center (MPC) – backed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It happened while the planet’s orbit was being calculated for the first time. This dwarf planet will be given a proper name only after the orbit is better determined, as currently, it is appears faint and seems to be an icy object of around 250 miles or 400 kilometers diameter.
The planetoid is a very distant trans-Neptunian object (TNO) which was discovered 132.2 Astronomical Units (AU) ± 1.5 AU, means approximately 19 ± 0.2 billion kilometers from the Sun. It is farther than any other planet or known observable object in our solar system. AU is the distance between a planet or object and the Sun, a unit of measurement that is used by astronomers. Confirmed distance of 2018-AG37 is farther than 2018 VG18 (nicknamed FarOut), the previous record holder, found by same MPC team. 2018 VG18 was discovered beyond 100 AU, that is approximately 15 billion kilometers on 10th November 2018, and based on observations by the team, 2018 VG18 appears somewhat pink in color, which indicates it is an ice rich surface. The same research team has been involved in various other discoveries of distant trans-Neptunian objects, including the 541132 Leleākūhonua and Sednoids 2012 VP113.
If Earth takes a year to orbit the Sun, FarFarOut’s journey to orbit the Sun takes about a thousand of Earth-years or a millennium, crossing Neptune’s orbit when it is the closest to the Sun. Since FarFarOut moves so slowly across the sky, it took several years of observations to determine its trajectory and orbit. Its orbital dynamics and gravitational interaction with orbit of Neptune is most likely to be the cause of unusual orbit of FarFarOut, which might help the team analyze formation and evolution of Neptune.
The researchers include David Tholen from the University of Hawaii Mānoa, Chad Trujillo from the Northern Arizona University, and Scott S. Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science. Telescope initially used to discover the planetoid is Subaru 8-Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and Magellan and Gemini North telescopes were also used to study. The team mentioned that ‘most probably this planetoid is just a tip of an iceberg of our solar system bodies at a distant, and though some of the distant bodies are very large, this being a dwarf planet in terms of size, is faint as it is extremely far from the Sun.’ Team added that, novel and technologically advanced digital cameras on large telescopes have made it possible to discover distant bodies such as Farfarout.