Move over ‘Farout’, astronomers confirm that ‘Farfarout’ is the solar system’s most distant known object

A view of the night sky from the Uruguayan landscape on May 10, 2019.

A view of the night sky from the Uruguayan landscape on May 10, 2019.
Photo: Mariana Suarez (Getty Images)

What astronomers thought to be the most distant object in the solar system, “Farout”, has lost its title after only two years. This crown now goes to “Farfarout” (zero points for creativity, guys), a planetoid that is more than 130 times farther away from the sun than Earth is.

As spotted by Vise versaafter years of observations, have astronomers confirmed that the asteroid designated by the Minor Planet Center as 2018 AG37, nicknamed Farfarout, is the longest known object in the solar system in 132 astronomical units away from the sun.

A single AU is the average distance from Earth to the Sun, ie about 92 million miles or 148 million kilometers. (For reference, the former title holder Farout, officially designated 2018 VG18, is “just” 120 AU away.) This means that Farfarout is about 12.3 billion miles or 19.7 billion kilometers away or in context about four times farther away from the sun than Pluto. At that distance, the asteroid completes a single orbit around the sun just once in a millennium.

“Because of this long orbital period, it moves very slowly across the sky and requires years of observation to accurately determine its orbit,” said David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy and a member of the team behind the discovery. said in a statement this week.

That team-Tholen, Carnegie Institution of Science’s Scott Sheppard and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo – originally discovered the asteroid in 2018 using Subaru 8 meters telescope located on top of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii. In recent years, they have used the Gemini North Telescope, also located on Mauna Kea, and the Magellan Telescope in Chile to determine Farfarout’s orbit and confirm its status as the most distant known object in our solar system.

“The discovery of Farfarout demonstrates our growing ability to map the outer solar system and observe farther and farther toward the edge of our solar system,” Sheppard said in this week’s statement. “Only with the recent few advances with large digital cameras on very large telescopes has it been possible to effectively detect very distant objects such as Farfarout.”

There is still a lot that scientists do not know about this incredibly distant planetoid, but they have revealed a few clues in their research. The team believes it is at the “low end” of the dwarf planet scale “provided it is an icy object” and has an estimated diameter of about 400 km. It has an incredibly elongated orbit that crosses paths with Neptune, leading scientists to speculate that Farfarout may once have been a much closer planetary neighbor, but possibly came too close to Neptune and was bent to the outer region of our solar system as a result of the gravity of the much larger celestial body.

Astronomers believe that studying Farfarout may provide insight into how Neptune formed and evolved in our solar system, and the two are likely to interact again because of their intersecting orbits.

It is uncertain how long Farfarout will hold on to the title, especially given the rapid advances with our terrestrial telescopes. Sheppard called the asteroid “just the tip of the iceberg of objects in the solar system in the very distant solar system.” Who knows, maybe at this point next year we’ll get a GrandpaLONGout on our hands.

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