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139 new small cosmic bodies found in the solar system

US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — Astronomers have discovered small cosmic bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune thanks to the project The Dark Energy Survey (DES), whose goal is to study the dark energy and dynamics of the expansion of the universe.

From August 2013 to January 2019, the 4-meter telescope Victor M. Blanco, located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile and equipped with a 440-megapixel DECam camera, shot a 5,000 square degree southern sky.

“Our DECam camera was not created to search for planets, but to study dark energy. Nevertheless, due to the enormous sensitivity and depth of coverage, this is a very convenient tool for searching for trans-Neptune objects,” co-author of the study Gary Bernstein.

Scientists consider the existence of the ninth planet of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. Astrophysicists Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown suggest that it is the nucleus of the nascent gas giant that was thrown out of its original orbit by Jupiter during the formation of the solar system.

However, it has not yet been possible to localize the position of this planet, since it is located at a distance of about 200 astronomical units.

This does not allow you to directly see it in general images of the solar system and forces astronomers to search for it blindly, as well as narrow the search field, opening new small space bodies and calculating their orbits.

According to scientists, new discoveries were made after intensive re-analysis of DES data for the first four years of the project. DES participants found that the algorithms and tools that were used to detect traces of supernova explosions and collisions of galaxies can also be used to search for much closer objects, including small space bodies.

“The number of trans-Neptune objects that you can find depends on which part of the sky you are observing and which most dimly lit object you can find,” Gary Bernstein.

These objects are located at a distance of 30 astronomical units from us, so finding them is not easy. The research team began with seven billion points in the pictures, excluding objects that were in the same place for several nights, which excluded their belonging to trans-Neptune objects.

The next step was to identify the grouped objects to find out the trajectory of their movement. This led to the emergence of a list of 400 candidates for the title of small space bodies.

Further study of this catalog showed that among only 139 of these objects are small cosmic bodies, and not asteroids or near-Earth satellites, a significant part of which planetologists have already discovered in the past few years. Scientists plan to continue the study by analyzing data for the entire period of the Dark Energy Survey.

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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.