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Meet Farfarout, the Most Distant Object in the Solar System

The new planetoid unseats Farout, which held the title for about two years

An artist's illustration imagines the newly discovered Farfarout (lower right), now confirmed to be the most distant object ever observed in our solar system. Farfarout is 132 times the distance of Earth to the sun (upper left) and is estimated to be around 250 miles across. (NOIRLAB / NSF / AURA / J. DA SILVA)
smithsonianmag.com

A planetoid called Farfarout is now officially the most distant object in our solar system, reports Passant Rabie for Inverse.

Researchers determine distance in space using astronomical units, or the average distance between the Earth and the sun—roughly 92 million miles. Farfarout is 132 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, which is four times farther away from the sun than Pluto. That staggering distance from the sun means it takes Farfarout around 1,000 years to complete a single lap around the sun, according to a statement.

The former record holder, Farout, is “only” about 120 AU from the sun, holding onto the title of farthest known object in the solar system for about two years. Per the statement, Farfarout has been given the official designation of “2018 AG37” by the Minor Planet Center.

The brightness of this newly confirmed planetoid is faint but suggests Farfarout is about 250 miles across, reports Elizabeth Howell for Space.com. Researchers currently think the dwarf planet is mostly made of ice, according to Space.com.

Farfarout was first spotted in January 2018 by the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea on the island Hawai’i. But to figure out exactly what they were looking at, researchers tracked the object for two years using additional observations from the Gemini North telescope, also on Maunakea, and the Magellan Telescopes in Chile, according to a statement.

“The discovery of Farfarout shows our increasing ability to map the outer Solar System and observe farther and farther towards the fringes of our Solar System,” says its co-discoverer Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, in the statement. “Only with the advancements in the last few years of large digital cameras on very large telescopes has it been possible to efficiently discover very distant objects like Farfarout… Farfarout is just the tip of the iceberg of objects in the very distant Solar System.”

Over the course of Farfarout’s thousand-year elliptical orbit, it ranges from a maximum distance of 175 AUs from the sun to 27 AUs, which brings it closer in than Neptune, according to Space.com. Farfarout actually crosses paths with Neptune during its orbit, a fact that makes researchers studying it wonder if its far flung ellipse is the result of getting too close to Neptune, which could have slingshotted it out of the inner solar system.

According to Alyse Stanley of Gizmodo, researchers say studying Farfarout could help us understand how Neptune formed and arrived in its present position in the solar system, adding that the far away planetoid and planet are likely to interact again when their orbits intersect.

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