A study suggests a rise in the number of dwarf planets

The preliminary results of a project of excellence developed by researchers at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia (IAA-CSIC) now point to a possible increase in the number of dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. The increase could be due to the definition of dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union: bodies with a diameter large enough to allow them to maintain hydrostatic equilibrium.

Artistic representation of the planet Eris.Imagen: Wikipedia
The IAA-CSIC experts studying some of the physical properties of the so-called trans-Neptunian objects, Centaurs, comets of the Jupiter family, the near-Earth asteroids (NEOs), meteoroids.

The work, led by Jose Luis Ortiz Moreno and worth about 300,000 euros from the Junta de Andalucia, aims to raise awareness on issues such as its formation and evolution. "It is of cosmological importance because we provide essential information for understanding the origin and early evolution of our Solar System and of other planetary systems."

Three points of Andalusia take part in this project: Calar Alto (Almeria), Sierra Nevada and La Sagra, Granada, respectively. "The studies we intend to do will be partially directed to the rotational states and the effects of collisions, as well as orbital dynamics, aspects that are closely related to the study of trans-Neptunian objects (TNO), also known by some specialists Belt objects Kuiper, "he says.

For Ortiz, the TNO is one of the topics of greatest strength in the investigations of the Solar System. The discovery of these bodies has caused a revolution. In just 15 years (since the discovery of the object by Jewitt and Luu 1992QB1 the Kuiper Belt has been considered a theoretical postulate to be the most populated region of the Solar System.

Currently, it is estimated that the region between 30 and 50 astronomical units from the Sun they reside, approximately 100,000 with diameters near 100 kilometers. "The nominal diameter of 100 km may need downward revision in the light of recent findings on the average albedo of these objects. Never before had found a belt whose population is so large and had gone completely unnoticed," says researcher .

The interest of the NEO

One of the most interesting objects to study are called NEO (Near Earth Objects), whose importance lies essentially in its danger, as it orbits around the Earth are likely to collide with it. In fact, we know they are a major cause of mass extinction on Earth and possible natural cause of the destruction of civilization.

Constantly cited as potentially hazardous NEOs. The so-called 2004MN4 (Apophis) was the one who most likely have had to collide with Earth in the short term. Even from the U.S. aerospace sector is proposed to hold a space mission to deflect its path. The TNO, mainly because of its huge distance from the Sun (farther away than Pluto in most cases), are the least evolved bodies in the Solar System. "So their study will give us keys that are not found anywhere else (except perhaps in the comets in the Oort cloud) on the subject which was the primitive solar nebula and solar system formation and early evolution" Ortiz says.

In addition, the trans-Neptunian belt gives the natural connection with the study of protoplanetary disks seen in some stars. Not surprisingly, despite the difficulties, NASA has launched a specific space mission called New Horizons to visit Pluto and other TNO yet clear.

Knowledge in the field of trans-Neptunian objects are evolving at a rapid pace. "A greater number of observations in the future and the study of the distribution of rotation periods based on different orbital parameters and different populations, and depending on the sizes might shed light on the matter. It is clearly necessary the study of the compositions of surfaces by spectroscopic, mainly infrared. This line of work may be key, since not only provide color information, the study is more complete. These are lines of research that we develop in our project, "he concludes.

Credit: Andalucia Innova
Source: Platforma Sinc