New neighbour

A recently found object that is roughly half the size of Pluto might be the smallest planet

Published: Friday 15 November 2002

a good seven decades after Pluto was discovered in 1930, astronomers have discovered another object beyond Pluto. The discovery is significant because it might throw light on the very origins of the planets in our solar system. The new object, tentatively named Quaoar, is about six billion kilometres away from the Earth. It is thought to be about 1,200 kilometres across, or roughly half the size of Pluto. It orbits the Sun once every 288 earth years and inhabits the Kuiper belt. This is a belt of small objects beyond Neptune that is thought to be the place where comets originate.

In fact, given Pluto's small size compared to the other planets in the solar system and its nearness to the Kuiper belt, some astronomers have argued that it is not really a planet but a Kuiper belt object. With the discovery of Quaoar, this controversy has taken a fresh turn with many astronomers debating its status -- whether it can be called a planet or just a large Kuiper belt object. The astronomers are divided on this and the International Astronomical Union will finally decide on the categorisation of Quaoar. It will also decide about the official name of the object. Till then, Quaoar is going to be an object of intense study.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.