"Just as New Horizons revealed Pluto, its moons, and more recently, the KBO
nicknamed Ultima Thule in exquisite detail, Dr.
is apparently just one of many in the Kuiper Belt, which has long been known to hold remnants of the solar system's formation.
has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of 5 billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system.
Of the KBOs
listed in Table 2, only Pluto, Haumea and Makemake are classed as plutoids.
The critical point came in 2005, after researchers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena announced the discovery of a KBO
even larger than Pluto.
Thanks to a bunch of complex calculations, the researchers have reason to believe that the unusual KBO
observations are not due to a 'fluke,' but rather something concrete and worth investigating.
The smallest Kuiper Belt Object (KBO
) seen previously in reflected light is roughly 30 miles across, or 50 times larger.
The mission plan calls for New Horizons to whiz 10,000 km above Pluto's surface in July 2015, then fire thrusters to set itself on a course to fly past a KBO
. But finding a suitable KBO
took three years of searching with both ground--and space-based instruments; planners postponed the main search until 2011, when for various reasons it became easier to look for objects near Pluto.
"This one frustrated us for years because we didn't know what it was telling us." At that time, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRC) at the Keck Observatory -- which Caltech professor of physics Tom Soifer and chief instrument scientist Keith Matthews helped design in the 1990s -- was the best instrument astronomers had to study KBOs
, according to Brown.
The final piece of the puzzle that led Brown to conclude what they discovered was a planet was evidence of KBOs
following a perpendicular path from Neptune that matched the simulation. "With the existence of the planet also explaining these perpendicular orbits, not only do you kill two birds, you also take down a bird that you didn't realize was sitting in a nearby tree," Batygin said.
Astronomers have discovered more than 1,000 KBOs