In the far lengths of the Solar System, past the orbit of Neptune, some things began getting more difficult to see. Directly imaging small space objects out in the darkness of the Kuiper Belt – where Pluto is – was challenging, making the newest finding very exciting.
If astronomers are aware of where a cosmic feature is, they can view it by waiting for it to move in front of distant stars. Such a thing is dubbed occultation and is something astronomers used recently. Here is what you should know.
Astronomers’ Unexpected Discovery of the Dwarf Planet
When astronomers utilized occultation back in 2018 to examine an object they’ve been observing for almost two decades, they discovered something unexpected. They spotted a chunk of a moon, relative to the host it is orbiting.
The space object caught approaching that moon is a space object called (84522) 2002 TC302 and was first observed in 2002. Astronomers estimated that it’s approximately 584 kilometers in diameter, and with an orbital period of 417 years (a 2.5 orbital resonance with Neptune). Such a thing means that 2002 TC302 is almost a dwarf planet.
But astronomers preferred not to release yet a full statement. When predictions of the space object’s orbit pointed to an occultation event back in 2018, observatories around Europe started to look at 2002 TC302’s neighborhood to understand its physical features, such as shape and size.
Telescopes in Slovenia, France, Switzerland, and Italy realized 12 positive detections of the occultation event and 4 negative ones. These results made the best observation of a trans-Neptunian object so far that astronomers recently used to get more accurate measurements of the space object’s diameter: 500 kilometers.2002 TC302 is a lot larger than Arrokoth (space object spotted in 2015), but it could be now at a later phase of growth. Astronomers still need to perform a lot of other measurements to release a full statement. However, 2002 TC302, has many chances to become the next dwarf planet!
As our second lead editor, Suzanne Fisher provides guidance on the stories Tech Life reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Suzanne. Suzanne received a BA and MA from Fordham University.