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A Sedna-like body with a perihelion of 80 astronomical units

Abstract

The observable Solar System can be divided into three distinct regions: the rocky terrestrial planets including the asteroids at 0.39 to 4.2 astronomical units (au) from the Sun (where 1 au is the mean distance between Earth and the Sun), the gas giant planets at 5 to 30 au from the Sun, and the icy Kuiper belt objects at 30 to 50 au from the Sun. The 1,000-kilometre-diameter dwarf planet Sedna was discovered ten years ago and was unique in that its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) is 76 au, far greater than that of any other Solar System body1. Formation models indicate that Sedna could be a link between the Kuiper belt objects and the hypothesized outer Oort cloud at around 10,000 au from the Sun2,3,4,5,6. Here we report the presence of a second Sedna-like object, 2012 VP113, whose perihelion is 80 au. The detection of 2012 VP113 confirms that Sedna is not an isolated object; instead, both bodies may be members of the inner Oort cloud, whose objects could outnumber all other dynamically stable populations in the Solar System.

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Figure 1: Sedna and 2012 VP113 are clear dynamical outliers in the Solar System.
Figure 2: Results from the observational bias simulation.
Figure 3: The argument of perihelion for distant objects clusters about 0°.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) team for obtaining observations during DECam commissioning, D. Norman for scheduling the November 2012 DECam observations, and D. Norman, A. Kunder and K. Holhjem for queue observing in November. T. Abbott and F. Valdes were very helpful during our December 2012 DECam observations. This project used data obtained with DECam, which was constructed by the Dark Energy Survey collaborating institutions. Observations were in part obtained at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, under contract with the National Science Foundation. This paper includes data gathered with the 6.5-m Magellan telescopes located at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. This research was funded by NASA Planetary Astronomy grant NNX12AG26G and has also been supported by the Gemini Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., on behalf of the international Gemini partnership of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile and the USA.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

C.T. created the moving object detection program for image analysis, developed the discovery statistic simulations, and is the principal investigator of the NASA grant supporting the project. S.S. obtained the telescope time, planned and performed the observations, analysed the data (including the colour measurements) and estimated the inner Oort cloud object orbital evolution using the Mercury integrator.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chadwick A. Trujillo.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Histogram of ω for minor planets with q > 30 au.

This is similar to Fig. 3 but in histogram form. The bodies with a > 150 au are shown as a black line (multiplied by a factor of ten for clarity) and bodies with a < 150 au are shown as a dotted line. The two distributions differ according to Kuiper’s test with a significance of 99.9%.

Extended Data Figure 2 The ω cycling of 2012 VP113 in the current Solar System.

We note that over the course of 500 Myr, the argument of perihelion ω moves uniformly across all values. All inner Oort cloud Objects (Table 1) and other distant objects (Extended Data Table 2) are expected to exhibit this behaviour on differing timescales, so the observation that all are restricted to ω near 0° is inconsistent with the current dynamical environment in the Solar System. Because these are simulated plots, there are no error bars associated with data points.

Extended Data Figure 3 The libration of ω for 2012 VP113 with an assumed object five times the mass of Earth at 210 au.

2012 VP113 librates about ω = 0° for most of the duration of the Solar System. This behaviour could explain why the two inner Oort cloud Objects (Table 1) and all objects with semi-major axes greater than 150 au and perihelia greater than Neptune’s (Extended Data Table 2) have ω ≈ 0°. The choice of mass and orbit of the perturber is not unique. Many possible distant planetary bodies can produce the pictured Kozai resonance behaviour, but the currently known Solar System bodies cannot. These are simulated plots, so there are no error bars associated with data points.

Extended Data Table 1 Model parameters for the q′ = 5 inner Oort Cloud observational bias and population study
Extended Data Table 2 Orbital elements of extreme Solar System bodies
Extended Data Table 3 Colours of 2012 VP113

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Trujillo, C., Sheppard, S. A Sedna-like body with a perihelion of 80 astronomical units. Nature 507, 471–474 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13156

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