Published: Fri, February 01, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Missing link in planet evolution found

Missing link in planet evolution found

Way out there: The Kuiper Belt is filled with a mix of items likely left over from the solar system's formation that reside beyond Neptune's orbit. Arimatsu called their discovery a "real victory" for small projects, especially since they had less than 0.3 percent of the funding large global projects receive.

"So we used a technique known as occultation: monitoring a large number of stars and watching for the shadow of an object passing in front of one of the stars". Given its size - significantly smaller than Pluto or Ultima Thule - these types of celestial bodies may be far more common than previously thought and provide clues on planetary evolution.

Objects in the dark and lonely belt are preserved as they were at the formation of the Solar System, largely unaffected by solar radiation, asteroids and gravity.

In particular, the size distribution of kilometer-sized (with a radius between 1 and 10km, or 0.6 and 6.2 miles) KBOs represents a signature of initial object sizes when planets form.

To achieve a challenging occultation observation, the scientists launched an observation project using amateur telescopes, named the Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey (OASES). Thus, astronomers are planning to study them for learning about the process of planet formation in the beginning. The discovery proves that small Kuiper Belt Objects are real and exist in large numbers. When the data was analyzed, they found that an event consistent with a star appearing to dim as if it was blocked by a 1.3km radius object. "We didn't even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope!" "Our team had less than 0.3% of the budget of large worldwide projects", Dr. Arimatsu said.

Astronomers are excited and have announced that a small and underfunded project has made a world's first discovery.

Now that the researchers know their methodology works, Arimatsu added, they plan to study the Kuiper Belt in even greater detail. As the team says in their paper, "If this is a true KBO detection, this implies that planetesimals before their runaway growth phase grew into kilometre-sized objects in the primordial outer Solar System and remain as a major population in the present-day Kuiper belt".

The study's lead author continued that they have their sights set on the Oort Cloud, the solar system's comet repository, next.

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