Hello, friends! Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at new and interesting scientific terms so we can expand our scientific vocabularies together! Today’s Sciency Word is:
You know, I recently spent a couple days trapped at home due to a snow storm. Don’t worry, I don’t live in Texas—I wasn’t trapped in that snow storm. Anyway, after reading a little about Dr. Scott Sheppard, I feel as though I seriously misused those snowed-in days.
Dr. Sheppard is one of the key players in the ongoing search for Planet X, also known as Planet Nine or (as I like to call it) New Pluto. Together with fellow astronomer Chad Trejillo, Sheppard has discovered more than sixty objects of various sizes out beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.
Among those sixty-plus objects Sheppard and Trejillo discovered is a possible dwarf planet nicknamed “FarOut” (official designation 2018 VG18). FarOut is—or rather was, very briefly—the most distant natural object known to exist in our Solar System. Hence the nickname.
But in early 2019, Sheppard was reviewing his data and happened to notice another object even farther out than FarOut. As Scientific American tells the story, this happened while Sheppard was “snowed in during a blizzard.” (I spent my recent snowed-in days watching cartoons on my phone.) The new object Sheppard found in his data has the official designation 2018 AG37, but Sheppard nicknamed it “FarFarOut,” for obvious reasons.
According to this article from Carnegie Science, FarFarOut has a highly eccentric (non-circular) orbit, with an orbital period of approximately one thousand years! Seriously, a thousand years!!! A portion of that highly eccentric orbit is actually not that far away at all; at its closest approach to the Sun, FarFarOut’s orbital path actually crosses within the orbit of Neptune.
I do have to take issue with some of the news articles and social media posts I’ve seen about FarFarOut. Strictly speaking, FarFarOut is not the most distant known object in the Solar System. We should probably call it the most distant natural object, or the most distant non-articifical object, that we currently know about, because there is one known object that’s even fartherer out than FarFarOut.