Take the distance between Earth and the sun, multiply that by 80, and look toward Pluto. These are the directions an astronomer would give to describe the location of a newly discovered planet. After a decade of research, the discovery of a second dwarflike planet beyond Pluto was announced this week. For now, the planet is named 2012 VP113 after Vice President Joe Biden.
VP113 was found beyond the known edge of our solar system in a region just past the Kuiper Belt called the Oort Cloud. In 2003, another planet, Sedna, was discovered in the same region, but VP113 is estimated to be at least four astronomical units (the distance between Earth and the sun) beyond Sedna.
Astronomers are still unsure about what gravitational forces affect Sedna and VP113 in the Oort Cloud. A popular theory states there is sister star to the sun that has created its own stable orbital subdivision. VP113 is likely the first of many planets to be discovered in the Oort Cloud. Astronomers think there could be nearly 1,000 other similarly orbiting objects out there, some even rivaling the size of Earth.
Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo are the astronomers responsible for the find. Using a 4-meter telescope in Chile, the duo searched vast areas of sky looking for faint objects. Once identified, the astronomers were able to determine the orbit and other information using another 6.5-meter telescope in Chile.
In other space news, NASA has turned to the public for help on designing its next space suit. More than 80,000 people have already cast their votes for three different prototypes for the updated Z-2 suit. The three options are named Technology, Biomimicry, and Trends in Society, each sporting its own sense of space fashion. Voting ends on April 15, and the suits are expected to undergo testing as early as this November.