Letter

The trans-neptunian object UB313 is larger than Pluto

Received:
Accepted:
Published online:

Abstract

The most distant known object in the Solar System, 2003 UB313 (97 au from the Sun), was recently discovered near its aphelion1. Its high eccentricity and inclination to the ecliptic plane, along with its perihelion near the orbit of Neptune, identify it as a member of the ‘scattered disk’. This disk of bodies probably originates in the Kuiper belt objects, which orbit near the ecliptic plane in circular orbits between 30 and 50 au, and may include Pluto as a member. The optical brightness of 2003 UB313, if adjusted to Pluto's distance, is greater than that of Pluto, which suggested that it might be larger than Pluto2. The actual size, however, could not be determined from the optical measurements because the surface reflectivity (albedo) was unknown. Here we report observations of the thermal emission of 2003 UB313 at a wavelength of 1.2 mm, which in combination with the measured optical brightness leads to a diameter of 3,000 ± 300 ± 100 km. Here the first error reflects measurement uncertainties, while the second derives from the unknown object orientation. This makes 2003 UB313 the largest known trans-neptunian object, even larger than Pluto (2,300 km)3. The albedo is 0.60 ± 0.10 ± 0.05, which is strikingly similar to that of Pluto, suggesting that the methane seen in the optical spectrum2 causes a highly reflective icy surface.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the IRAM Director for providing discretionary observing time for this project, to the bolometer technology group of E. Kreysa for providing MAMBO, and to R. Zylka for the MOPSIC data reduction package. We thank M. Brown for input and discussions.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Argelander Institute for Astronomy, University of Bonn, Auf dem Hügel 71, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

    • F. Bertoldi
  2. Max-Planck-Institute for Radioastronomy, Auf dem Hügel 69, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

    • F. Bertoldi
    • , W. Altenhoff
    • , A. Weiss
    •  & K.M. Menten
  3. IRAM, 300 rue de la Piscine, 38406 Saint Martin d'Hères, France

    • C. Thum

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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. Bertoldi.