Japanese amateur astonomers find tiniest Kuiper Belt object yet with commecial 'scopes

Olive Hawkins
February 1, 2019

So rather than looking for it directly, the research team spotted it using occultation, a technique in which you watch for objects moving in front of a number of stars.

The Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt is a collection of small celestial bodies located beyond Neptune's orbit. The theory seemed to be viable but no one was able to find and prove the existence of such a small object until now. Kilometer size bodies such as this have been predicted to exist for over seven decades, but this is the first time one has been discovered.

Furthermore, astronomers have considered this object as a missing-link between initial coalescences of dust and ice and the present planets. "Our team had less than 0.3 percent of the budget of large global projects", lead researcher Ko Arimatsu said in a news release.

A plucky group of low-budget astronomers has pulled off quite a coup by spotting the smallest object yet in the Kuiper Belt, the donut of icy objects swirling around in the outer Solar System. The landmark discovery was made by an independent team called OASES (Organized Auto-telescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey). They can be studied in order to learn some information but they have been compromised by the exposure to solar radiation and solar winds.

The findings: You don't need anything fancy to make discoveries in space.

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When they analyzed the 60 hours of data, the team discovered a star appearing to dim as it is occulted by a 1.3 km radius Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt Object.

Why it matters: While scientists expected objects of this size exist, this confirmation outlined in Nature Astronomy supports models that predict small planets first began as kilometer-sized objects before their growth took off. The most distant portion, called the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, is more pristine.

In a press release, Arimatsu explains: "This is a real victory for little projects". It is believed that the belt consists of objects remaining after the formation of the planets.

'Now that we know our system works, we will investigate the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt in more detail.

"We also have our sights set on the still undiscovered Oort Cloud out beyond that", Arimatsu said, referring to the solar system's comet repository, which is thought to harbor trillions of icy objects. Our team had less than 0.3% of the budget of large worldwide projects.

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