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Meet DeeDee, the Solar System’s Newest Dwarf Planet (Maybe)

Though the tiny icy orb meets all the criteria, it has yet to receive the official designation

Artist's rendering of what DeeDee may look like (Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF))
smithsonian.com

While astronomers still battle about Pluto's planetary status, researchers continue to discover more dwarf planets in our solar system—with Sedna, Makemake and Eris identified in just the last decade. The latest celestial body to potentially make the grade is 2014 UZ224, nicknamed DeeDee, for “Distant Dwarf.”

As Mike Wall at Space.com reports, astronomers first caught sight of DeeDee in 2014 using the Blanco telescope in Chile. Those initial observations allowed scientists to learn a lot about the distant world. For instance, the object takes 1,100 earth years to orbit the sun in an elliptical orbit that brings it as close as 38 astronomical units (the distance of the earth to the sun) and as far as 180 AUs. Currently it sits some 92 AUs from the sun. They recently described DeeDee in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

But the Blanco observations couldn’t tell researchers just how big DeeDee is—and whether it is a sphere, which is necessary for it to qualify as a dwarf planet. That’s why researchers pointed the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) at DeeDee, which is able to detect the heat cold objects emit into space.

The data suggests that DeeDee is about 394 miles in diameter, making it about two-thirds the size of the dwarf planet Ceres located in the asteroid belt. That size also means DeeDee should have enough mass to take on a spherical shape, which would qualify it as a dwarf planet. Even so, it has not officially earned that status yet.

It’s unlikely DeeDee is the only undiscovered dwarf planet hiding in the space beyond Neptune, says David Gerdes, researcher at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper. There could be thousands out there.

“Far beyond Pluto is a region surprisingly rich with planetary bodies. Some are quite small but others have sizes to rival Pluto, and could possibly be much larger,” Gerdes says in a press release about the find. “Because these objects are so distant and dim, it’s incredibly difficult to even detect them, let alone study them in any detail. ALMA, however, has unique capabilities that enabled us to learn exciting details about these distant worlds.”

Dwarf planets aren’t the only celestial bodies still hiding in our Solar System. Some scientists suspect that another planet, dubbed Planet 9, is lurking on the edge of our solar system. So whether or not DeeDee makes the dwarf planet cut, there are still many more worlds just waiting to be found.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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