Mysterious ‘missing link’ object discovered lurking at the edge of our solar system

A tiny planetoid that’s a ‘missing link’ in the story of our solar system’s formation been spotted in a freezing region out beyond Neptune.

The object is just 1.3km wide and is a relic from the era when the planets began to form.

Astronomers have been looking for such ‘small celestial bodies’ for more than 70 years, but they are generally too minuscule to identity.

Now a Japanese team has been able to prove the existence of these mini-worlds because they observed one passing in front of a star and blocking out its light – a process called occultation.

An artist’s impression of the tiny object that’s a missing link in the story of our solar system

The object is orbiting within a ‘circumstellar disc’ called the Kuiper Belt, which is a ring of icy dwarf planets and comets which fringes the solar system.

Its discovery shows the Kuiper Belt could be filled with vast numbers of these small bodies.

But it also supports a theory about the formation of worlds like Earth which suggests small ‘planetesimals first grow slowly into kilometre-sized objects before runaway growth causes them to merge into planets’.

It’s thought objects residing in the ‘cold, dark, lonely’ Kuiper Belt are preserved in conditions which mirror conditions during the solar system’s birth.

This means that studying the frozen proto-planets could help tell the story of how all the bigger worlds came into being.

The research program which found the missing link object was much smaller and cheaper than other projects.

Its organisers now want to search for evidence of the Oort Cloud, a shell of icy bodies thought to surround the solar system like a big, thick bubble.

Ko Arimatsu from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan said: ‘This is a real victory for little projects.

‘Our team had less than 0.3% 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.

‘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.’


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