Astronomers have found a new planet orbiting our Sun. The new-discovered icy, reddish body is between 595 and 788 miles across, around the size of Pluto?s moon Charon. It has been named 2001 KX76 for now. ?When we spotted it, we just wrote 'wow' on the image,? says co-discoverer Dr Lawrence Wasserman of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. ?We knew right away it was a big one.?
It was found during a deep space survey that was looking for bodies circling the Sun out near Pluto, the most distant planet. There may be even larger objects out there, bigger than planet Pluto itself, still awaiting discovery. ?We have every reason to believe that objects ranging up to planets as large or larger than Pluto are out there waiting to be found,? says Wasserman. ?What we have seen may be only the tip of the iceberg.?
2001 KX76 was discovered in the course of the Deep Ecliptic Survey, a NASA-funded study. It was seen on May 22nd in deep digital images of the southern sky taken with the Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo in Chile. Astronomers estimate that it is currently at a distance of just over 4 billion miles from the Sun. The detailed shape of its orbit remains uncertain, but evidence suggests that it may be in an orbital dance with Neptune, orbiting the Sun three times for each time that Neptune completes four orbits.
?The excitement of this is that it?s a new frontier: There is a region in the solar system beyond Neptune that is populated with a large number of objects and we have no idea of what we may ultimately discover there,? says Robert Millis, director of the Lowell Observatory.
?We're inching up to Pluto,? says Dr. David Jewitt of the University of Hawaii. ?It is just a matter of time until we see Pluto 2, Pluto 3, and so on.?
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