University astronomy professor discovers new dwarf planet

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 6:53pm

University of Michigan Astronomy Prof. David Gerdes led a team of physicists to discover a new dwarf planet called 2014 UZ224 this July. The discovery was finalized earlier this week.

According to his findings, 2014 UZ224 is anywhere between 350 and 1,200 kilometers in diameter, and is approximately 8.5 billion miles from the sun. It is located in a region beyond Neptune in an area called Kuiper Belt and takes 1,136 years to complete one orbit.

According to the website, Gerdes’s team looked at images from the Dark Energy Survey, collected between 2013 and 2016 to find the planet. The DES is an international, collaborative effort that examines one-eighth of the sky over a five-year period from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The purpose of the DES is to look at different galaxies and understand why the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. It has also aided in the discovery of solar system objects like this one.

In an interview, Gerdes said the discovery teaches researchers more about the solar system and makes scientists hopeful about discovering it.

“I think, first of all, the object is interesting in its own right, as a distant remnant of the formation of the solar system,” he said. “Second of all, it shows that we have developed tools that (can be used to) find more things like this in our data. And the hope is that there are even bigger fish than this out there. This shows we have the tools to find them.”

On his website, Gerdes refers to solar system objects like this as “ ‘cosmic leftovers’ from the primordial disk that gave birth to the solar system.” 

Among a lengthly list of contributors, Gerdes noted several students involved LSA sophomores Lynus Zullo and Tali Khain  undergraduate research assistants and Rackham student Stephanie Hamilton, a graduate student research assistant whom he said contributed greatly to this achievement.

“I am so pleased that University of Michigan undergraduates have been able to participate in this research and make meaningful contributions and share in this discovery,” he said.