For several decades now, astronomers have been waiting to prove a theory about how planets are formed from small asteroid-like objects called Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt Objects in our solar system.
The existence of these objects had been predicted, but as they were so too distant, small, and dim — even for world-leading telescopes — it was hard to find a way to observe them directly.
As a result, it hasn’t been possible to properly prove the planet formation theory — however, scientists at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) are now certain they’ve succeeded in doing so, according to a report in Nature Astronomy.
The team used a simple but effective method
Since the team only had a very limited budget for their project, they decided to set up two relatively small telescopes to observe the sky.
The team selected 2,000 stars and observed them meticulously for roughly 60 hours.
The small size of the object the team found, as well as poor visibility, made it massively difficult for the team to identify it with certainty — using an extremely simple research method, however, they’ve successfully found clear proof that will play a hugely important role in astronomy.
To locate the planetesimal, the researchers used a technique called the occultation method where, according to the scientists, the main task involves “monitoring a large number of stars and watching for the shadow of an object passing in front of one of the stars”.
The astronomers succeeded in spotting an object with a radius of 1.3 kilometers, not far from Pluto.
“This is a real victory for little projects. Our team had less than 0.3 percent of the budget of large international projects. We didn’t even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope! Yet we still managed to make a discovery that is impossible for the big projects,” said astronomer and the manager of the project, NAOJ’s Ko Arimatsu.
This is a very significant discovery for scientists
Some might wonder why this discovery is any more exciting than others. The special thing about this recently discovered object is that, as scientists suspect, it is the sort of object that would be crucial in the formation of planets — from small amalgamations of dust and ice to the fully-formed planets we’re familiar with.
The theory behind planet formation hadn’t been proven, however, this object clearly speaks in favour of the “planetesimal” planet formation theory.
The astronomers also announced in the press release that they will be continuing their research in the field to find further evidence to support the theory.
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