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`Trans Neptunian' object to provide comets' missing link


VANCOUVER (BNS): A global team of scientists for the first time have discovered a strange object that orbits around the Sun backwards, tilted at an angle of 104 degrees, almost perpendicular to the orbits of the planets. Scientists from Canada, France and the United States were part of the discovery team, which also included University of British Columbia astronomer Brett Gladman.

Speaking about the discovery, Astronomer Gladman said that certain types of comets were not naturally produced after planet formation, especially those with highly tilted orbits.

“This discovery may finally show how they transit from the Oort Cloud to become objects like Halley's Comet,” Gladman said.

Explaining the discovery, the British Columbia professor said that the orbits of such objects in the region beyond Neptune's orbit provide fresh insights into the early history of the solar system.

Gladman, who teaches in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy and holds the Canada Research Chair in Planetary Astronomy, said that composed of icy rock, 2008 KV42 is called a "trans-Neptunian" object since its orbital path is larger than that of Neptune. “The object is roughly 50 km across and at present 35 times farther from the Sun than the Earth,” Gladman said.

Giving more insight into the discovery, the professor said that the global team was only looking for objects with highly tilted orbits. He said that the discovery was possible by using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, with follow-up observations by MMT telescope in Arizona, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) four-metre telescope in Chile, and the Gemini South telescope, also in Chile, which is partnered by Canada.

Gladman said that the success of discovery was quick access to MMT and Gemini South telescopes, and also generous support of observers and directors. “Given the highly unusual orbit, the object would have been lost without rapid tracking from these large telescopes,” the astronomer said.

It has been given to understand that the team of scientists is carrying out follow-up observations of 2008 KV42 to pin down its orbit with greater precision. Soon they will disclose the archaeological information gathered from the orbit of this trans-Neptunian population.

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