Astronomy

Is there likely other significant objects we haven't discovered in the solar system?

Is there likely other significant objects we haven't discovered in the solar system?

In the last few weeks, I read a few news that presented new advances in our understanding of the solar system, which implied we don't really know our neighboorhood that well. I was wondering, how likely is it that we make a significant discovery around us in the next decade? Like discovering a new massive object (moon or even planet etc.), or that a planet area is habitable

I was assuming it's very unlikely because we have good measures and models (gravity based or other means I guess) but those few papers (sorry I didn't bookmark them) have me wonder. How much do we really know of our nearest environment, before looking at interstellar stuff?


Moons. We've explored the planets up to Saturn with probes that remained in orbit for long periods and found moons down to quite small sizes. While it is certain that there are more small undiscovered moons, these won't be large spherical objects. Uranus and Neptune have not been visited by orbiting probes, and so there are surely lots of undiscovered moons. Nothing very large, or we could see it from Earth but relatively substantial moons could be orbiting Neptune but be undetected. However there are no planned missions to either Uranus or Neptune in the next 10 years.

Dwarf Planets. There are probably spherical bodies (and hence "dwarf planets") in the Kuiper belt, in the region of space around Pluto. There could well be further discoveries of dwarf planets here. We are certain there are no more dwarf planets in the asteroid belt. On the other hand we discover new asteroids all the time.

Major Planets. There is the intriguing suggestion that the orbits of the known Kuiper belt objects are correlated with each other in a way that could be due to a large, Neptune sized planet in orbit in the outer part of the solar system. It is far from certain if such a body exists, but if it does, it could be discovered within a decade.

Habitable zones. The only Habitable zone is the one which is approximately 150,000,000 km from the sun. If you go closer, water boils. If you go further it freezes. Liquid water surely exists under the ice of some of the outer solar system moons, but I would not call them "habitable".

Unknown Unknowns. If you look back 10 years most of the new discoveries could not have been predicted.


The Solar System may have two undiscovered planets

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Given the huge number of exoplanets discovered in recent years, the discovery of two new planets would come as no surprise—except that these two, discussed in a new study, may be part of our Solar System.

The presence of the closer of the two planets had already been suggested in a previous work. The new study provides more evidence for its existence and adds a second planet. Both studies are based on observations of objects far beyond Neptune’s orbit, called extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs). These ETNOs display shared patterns in their orbits, which suggests they’re all being influenced gravitationally by heavier objects, much further away from the Sun.

While this conclusion is based on a small sample (13 bodies), the authors confirm that their results are statistically significant and that at least two planets, orbiting far beyond Pluto’s orbit, are the most likely explanation for the observations.


Ask Ethan: If Dark Matter Is Everywhere, Why Haven't We Detected It In Our Solar System?

A clumpy dark matter halo with varying densities and a very large, diffuse structure, as predicted . [+] by simulations, with the luminous part of the galaxy shown for scale. Since dark matter is everywhere, it should be in our Solar System as well. So why haven't we seen it yet?

NASA, ESA, and T. Brown and J. Tumlinson (STScI)

According to a large amount of evidence, the overwhelming majority of the Universe is made out of some mysterious type of mass that we've never directly measured. While protons, neutrons, and electrons — and for that matter, all the matter made out of particles from physics' Standard Model — make up the planets, stars, and galaxies we find throughout the Universe, they compose only 15% of the Universe's total mass. The rest is made out of something entirely different: cold dark matter. But if this dark matter is everywhere and so abundant, why haven't we seen it in our Solar System? That's the question of Bob Lipp, who wants to know:

All the evidence for dark matter and dark energy seem to be way out there in the cosmos. It seems very suspicious that we don't see any evidence of it here in our own solar system. No one has ever reported any anomaly in the orbits of the planets. Yet these have all been measured very precisely. If the universe is 95% dark, the effects should be locally measurable.

Should this be so? This was one of the first thoughts I had when I first learned about dark matter, some 17 years ago. Let's investigate and find out the truth.

The cosmic web of dark matter and the large-scale structure it forms. Normal matter is present, but . [+] is only 1/6th of the total matter. The other 5/6ths is dark matter, and no amount of normal matter will get rid of that.

The Millenium Simulation, V. Springel et al.

The big idea of dark matter is that, at some point in the very young Universe, before we formed galaxies, stars, or even neutral atoms, there was an almost-perfectly smooth sea of dark matter spread throughout it. Over time, gravitation and the other forces work through a series of interrelated steps:

  • all the matter, normal and dark, gravitationally attracts,
  • the regions with above-average density grow, preferentially attracting both types of matter,
  • the radiation pushes back against the normal matter, colliding with it,
  • but not the dark matter, at least, not in the same way.

This creates a very particular pattern of overdensities and underdensities in the Universe a pattern which is revealed when we look at the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

The fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background are of such small magnitude and of such a . [+] particular pattern that they strongly indicate the Universe began with the same temperature everywhere, and contains dark matter, normal matter, and dark energy in particular propotions.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

The CMB is the leftover glow from the Big Bang: the radiation that travels straight to our eyes from the moment neutral atoms first stably form. What we see, today, is a snapshot of the Universe as it transitions from an ionized plasma to an electrically neutral set of atoms: where that radiation pushback becomes negligible. The cold spots correspond to overdense regions, as the radiation has to spend extra energy (over the average) to climb out of the gravitational well it's in the hot spots are similarly underdense regions.

The overdense, average density, and underdense regions that existed when the Universe was just . [+] 380,000 years old now correspond to cold, average, and hot spots in the CMB.

E. Siegel / Beyond The Galaxy

The pattern of cold spots and hot spots on all the scales we can observe, as well as how they correlate, tell us what the Universe is made of: 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, and 5% normal matter. Over time, then, those overdense regions will grow into stars, star clusters, galaxies, and galaxy clusters, while the underdense regions will give up their matter to the denser regions surrounding them. Although it's only the normal matter that we can see, due to its production of and interaction with light and other forms of radiation, the dark matter is the dominant force responsible for the gravitational growth of structure in the Universe.

A detailed look at the Universe reveals that it's made of matter and not antimatter, that dark . [+] matter and dark energy are required, and that we don't know the origin of any of these mysteries. However, the fluctuations in the CMB, the formation and correlations between large-scale structure, and modern observations of gravitational lensing all point towards the same picture.

Chris Blake and Sam Moorfield

Because normal matter also interacts with itself, gravitational collapse behaves differently for normal matter than for dark matter. When a clump of normal matter gravitates, it begins to collapse. The collapse occurs along the shortest dimension first, but normal matter interacts and collides with other particles of normal matter, the same way your hands, even though atoms are mostly empty space, "clap" together when you attempt to pass them through one another. This creates a disk of matter, which then rotates: this is the origin of everything from disk (spiral) galaxies to solar systems which have their planets orbiting in a plane. The dark matter, on the other hand, doesn't collide with either itself or with normal matter, meaning it remains in a very large, extremely diffuse halo. Even though there's more dark matter than normal matter, its density in, say, our galaxy, is much lower where objects like stars are found.

The dark matter halo around our galaxy should exhibit different interaction probabilities as the . [+] Earth orbits the Sun, varying our motion through the dark matter in our galaxy.

So now, we come to the big question. What about dark matter's effect on the Solar System? A huge part of what you're probably thinking is true: we should have dark matter particles flying through space everywhere, including throughout our Milky Way. It means there should be dark matter in our Solar System, in our Sun, passing through our planet, and even in our bodies. The big question you need to ask is this: compared to the masses of the Sun, the planets, and the other objects in our Solar System, what is the relevant, interesting mass due to dark matter?

In the solar system, to a first approximation, the Sun determines the orbits of the planets. To a . [+] second approximation, all the other masses (like planets, moons, asteroids, etc.) play a large role. But to add in dark matter, we'd have to get incredibly sensitive.

To answer this, we need to first understand what determines the orbits of objects within our Solar System. The Sun is, by far, the dominant mass in the Solar System. To an outstanding approximation, it determines the orbits of the planets. But for Venus, the planet Mercury is interior to it to a first approximation, Venus’ orbit is determined by the combined masses of the Sun plus Mercury. For Jupiter, its orbit is determined by the Sun plus the inner, rocky planets and the asteroid belt. And for any orbiting object in general, its orbit is determined by the total mass enclosed by an imaginary sphere centered on the Sun, with that object at the edge of the sphere.

In General Relativity, if you have an even distribution of dark matter (or any form of mass) evenly . [+] throughout space, it's only the mass enclosed by the particular system you're orbiting that affects your motion the uniform mass outside plays no role.

Mark Whittle of the University of Virginia

If there’s a sea of dark matter that permeates space where we are — all through the Solar System — the outer planets should see a slightly different (greater) mass than the inner planets. And if there’s enough dark matter, it should be detectable. Because we know the mass of the Milky Way, the relative densities of normal and dark matter, and we have simulations that tell us how the dark matter density ought to behave, we can come up with some very good estimates. When you do these calculations, you find that about 10 13 kg of dark matter ought to be felt by Earth’s orbit, while around 10 17 kg would be felt by a planet like Neptune.

But these values are tiny compared to the other masses of consequence! The Sun has a mass of 2 × 10 30 kg, while Earth is more like 6 × 10 24 kg. Values like the one we came up with, in the 10 13 – 10 17 kg range, are the mass of a single modest asteroid. Someday, we may understand the Solar System well enough that such tiny differences will be detectable, but we’re a good factor of 100,000+ away from that right now.

Our galaxy is embedded in an enormous, diffuse dark matter halo, indicating that there must be dark . [+] matter flowing through the solar system. But it isn't very much, density-wise, and that makes it extremely difficult to detect locally.

Robert Caldwell & Marc Kamionkowski Nature 458, 587-589 (2009)

In other words, dark matter should be present in the Solar System, and it should disproportionately affect the motion of the outer planets relative to the inner ones, based on the amount of mass enclosed by a sphere centered on the Sun at the planet's radius. You might wonder, based on the arrangement of the Solar System, if many-body interactions between dark matter, a planet, and the Sun could cause additional dark matter to be captured by the Solar System. This was a fun problem, and was the topic of a paper I co-wrote some 10 years ago. What we found was that the density of dark matter can be greatly enhanced, but only if you don't consider that what gets captured is likely to get very quickly re-ejected again. Even at that, the maximum possible value today, after 4.5 billion years (in purple), is still below the best observational constraint.

The amount of galactic dark matter enclosed by planets at various radii in our solar system (blue), . [+] along with the total amount of dark matter expected to be captured (purple) over the lifetime of the solar system, ignoring ejections, and the best constraint, from a 2013 study, on the maximum amount of dark matter that could possibly be present. We have not reached the testable regime yet.

X. Xu and E. R. Siegel, via http://arxiv.org/pdf/0806.3767v1.pdf

We do have dark matter in our Solar System, and it ought to have real effects on every other particle of matter around it. If there's any interaction cross-section between normal matter particles and dark matter particles, then direct detection experiments should have a chance to discover it right here on Earth. And even if there isn't, the gravitational effects of the dark matter passing through the Solar System, both gravitationally captured and gravitationally free, should affect the orbits of the planets. But until our measurements become more and more precise, there simply isn't enough of a gravitational effect to result in anything detectable. For the meantime, we have to look to the Universe beyond, not our own Solar System, to see dark matter's effects on spacetime.


Signs of a hidden Planet Nine in our solar system may be an illusion

Planet Nine (illustrated) is a hypothetical giant planet hiding at the solar system’s edge. However, new work suggests the evidence for it is a mirage.

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Planet Nine might be a mirage. What once looked like evidence for a massive planet hiding at the solar system’s edge may be an illusion. That’s the conclusion of a new study.

“We can’t rule it out,” says Kevin Napier of Planet Nine. He’s a physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But there’s not necessarily a reason to rule it in.”

Previous work had suggested that a number of far-out objects in the solar system clump in the sky as if shepherded by an unseen giant planet. That planet would have to have at least 10 times the mass of Earth. Astronomers dubbed the invisible world Planet Nine or Planet X.

Now, a new analysis of 14 of those remote bodies shows no evidence for such clumping. The study knocks down the primary reason to believe in Planet Nine. Napier and his colleagues shared their findings February 10 at arXiv.org. The paper will appear later in the Planetary Science Journal.

Explainer: What is a planet?

Chad Trujillo is an astronomer at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Scott Sheppard is an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. In 2014, they revived interest in the idea of a distant planet lurking far beyond Neptune. At the time, they reported a collection of distant bodies with strangely bunched-up orbits near the edge of our solar system. Those distant bodies are called trans-Neptunian objects.

In 2016, planetary scientists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin reported new findings. They work at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. This pair used six trans-Neptunian objects to refine the possible properties of Planet Nine. They pinned it to an orbit between 500 and 600 times as far from the sun as Earth’s is.

But those earlier studies all relied on just a handful of objects. Those objects may not have represented all that’s out there, says Gary Bernstein. He’s an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who works with Napier. The objects might have seemed to show up in certain parts of the sky only because that’s where astronomers were looking.

“It’s important to know what you couldn’t see, in addition to what you did see,” he says.

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Illuminating hidden objects

To account for that uncertainty, Napier, Bernstein and their colleagues used observations from three surveys. They used the original one run by Sheppard and Trujillo. To this they added the Dark Energy Survey and the Outer Solar System Origins Survey. In all, it gave them 14 trans-Neptunian objects to study. That’s more than twice as many as in the 2016 study. All of them are between 233 and 1,560 times as far from the sun as is Earth.

The team then ran computer simulations of about 10 billion fake trans-Neptunian objects. These were distributed randomly around the sky. That let the researchers check to see if the positions of the 14 known objects matched what the surveys should be able to see. And they did.

“It really looks like we just find things where we look,” Napier says. Think about what would happen if you lost your keys at night. You might search for them under a street lamp — not because you thought they were there, but because that’s where the light was. The new study basically points out the street lamps.

“Once you see where the lampposts really are, it becomes more clear that there is some serious selection bias going on with the discovery of these objects,” Napier says. That means the objects are just as likely to be distributed randomly across the sky as they are to be clumped.

But that does not mean Planet Nine is done for, he adds.

“On Twitter, people have been very into saying that this kills Planet Nine,” Napier says. “I want to be very careful to mention that this does not kill Planet Nine. But it’s not good for Planet Nine.”

Still a mystery

There are other mysteries of the solar system that Planet Nine would have neatly explained, says Samantha Lawler. She’s an astronomer in Canada who did not take part in this study. She works at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. A distant planet could explain why some far-out solar-system objects have orbits that are tilted relative to those of the larger planets. Or, she adds, it might explain where proto-comets called centaurs come from. That was part of the appeal of the Planet Nine hypothesis.

“But the entire reason for it was the clustering of these orbits,” she adds. “If that clustering is not real, then there’s no reason to believe there is a giant planet in the distant solar system that we haven’t discovered.”

Batygin, an author of the 2016 paper, isn’t ready to give up. “I’m still quite optimistic about Planet Nine,” he says. He compares Napier’s argument to seeing a group of bears in the forest. If you see a bunch of bears to the east, you might think there was a bear cave there. “But Napier is saying the bears are all around us, because we haven’t checked everywhere,” Batygin says. “That logical jump is not one you can make.”

Evidence for Planet Nine should show up only in the orbits of objects that are stable over billions of years, he adds. But unstable objects have “strongly contaminated” the new study, he says. These bodies may have been nudged by Neptune and lost their position in the cluster. They also may be on their way to leaving the solar system entirely.

Lawler says there’s not strong agreement yet among people who study trans-Neptunian objects about which ones are stable and which are not.

Everyone does agrees, though, that astronomers need to find more trans-Neptunian objects if they hope to prove whether Planet Nine’s exists. The Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile should find hundreds more once it begins surveying the sky in 2023. “There always may be some gap in our understanding,” Napier says. “That’s why we keep looking.”

Power Words

astronomer: A scientist who works in the field of research that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe.

bias: The tendency to hold a particular perspective or preference that favors some thing, some group or some choice. Scientists often “blind” subjects to the details of a test (don’t tell them what it is) so that their biases will not affect the results.

centaur: (in astronomy) A celestial object that is a hybrid between an asteroid and comet.

colleague: Someone who works with another a co-worker or team member.

dark energy: A theoretical force that counteracts gravity and causes the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

hypothesis: (v. hypothesize) A proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In science, a hypothesis is an idea that must be rigorously tested before it is accepted or rejected.

illusion: A thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.

journal: (in science) A publication in which scientists share their research findings with experts (and sometimes even the public). Some journals publish papers from all fields of science, technology, engineering and math, while others are specific to a single subject. The best journals are peer-reviewed: They send all submitted articles to outside experts to be read and critiqued. The goal, here, is to prevent the publication of mistakes, fraud or sloppy work.

Neptune: The furthest planet from the sun in our solar system. It is the fourth largest planet in the solar system.

observatory: (in astronomy) The building or structure (such as a satellite) that houses one or more telescopes.

orbit: The curved path of a celestial object or spacecraft around a galaxy, star, planet or moon. One complete circuit around a celestial body.

physicist: A scientist who studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

planet: A large celestial object that orbits a star but unlike a star does not generate any visible light.

planetary science: The science of planets other than Earth.

primary: An adjective meaning major, first or most important.

simulation: (v. simulate) An analysis, often made using a computer, of some conditions, functions or appearance of a physical system. A computer program would do this by using mathematical operations that can describe the system and how it might change over time or in response to different anticipated situations.

solar system: The eight major planets and their moons in orbit around our sun, together with smaller bodies in the form of dwarf planets, asteroids, meteoroids and comets.

survey: To view, examine, measure or evaluate something, often land or broad aspects of a landscape.

Twitter: An online social network that allows users to post messages containing no more than 280 characters. (Until November 2017, the limit had been just 140 characters.)

uncertainty: (in statistics) A range of how much measurements of something will vary around an already-measured value.

Citations

Journal:​ ​​ K. J. Napier et al. No evidence for orbital clustering in the extreme trans-Neptunian objects. arXiv:2102.05601. Posted February 10, 2021.

About Lisa Grossman

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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UA Scientists and the Curious Case of the Warped Kuiper Belt

An unknown, unseen "planetary mass object" may lurk in the outer reaches of our solar system, according to new research on the orbits of minor planets to be published in the Astronomical Journal. This object would be different from — and much closer than — the so-called Planet Nine, a planet whose existence yet awaits confirmation.

In the paper, Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, or LPL, present compelling evidence of a yet-to-be- discovered planetary body with a mass somewhere between that of Mars and Earth. The mysterious mass, the authors show, has given away its presence — for now — only by controlling the orbital planes of a population of space rocks known as Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs, in the icy outskirts of the solar system.

While most KBOs — debris left over from the formation of the solar system — orbit the sun with orbital tilts (inclinations) that average out to what planetary scientists call the invariable plane of the solar system, the most distant of the Kuiper Belt's objects do not. Their average plane, Volk and Malhotra discovered, is tilted away from the invariable plane by about eight degrees. In other words, something unknown is warping the average orbital plane of the outer solar system.

"The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass," says Volk, a postdoctoral fellow at LPL and the lead author of the study. "According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured."

The Kuiper Belt lies beyond the orbit of Neptune and extends to a few hundred Astronomical Units, or AU, with one AU representing the distance between Earth and the sun. Like its inner solar system cousin, the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuiper Belt hosts a vast number of minor planets, mostly small icy bodies (the precursors of comets), and a few dwarf planets.

For the study, Volk and Malhotra analyzed the tilt angles of the orbital planes of more than 600 objects in the Kuiper Belt in order to determine the common direction about which these orbital planes all precess. Precession refers to the slow change or "wobble" in the orientation of a rotating object.

KBOs operate in an analogous way to spinning tops, explains Malhotra, who is a Louise Foucar Marshall Science Research Professor and Regents' Professor of Planetary Sciences at LPL.

"Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge," she says. "If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.

"We expect each of the KBOs' orbital tilt angle to be at a different orientation, but on average, they will be pointing perpendicular to the plane determined by the sun and the big planets."

If one were to think of the average orbital plane of objects in the outer solar system as a sheet, it should be quite flat past 50 AU, according to Volk.

"But going further out from 50 to 80 AU, we found that the average plane actually warps away from the invariable plane," she explains. "There is a range of uncertainties for the measured warp, but there is not more than 1 or 2 percent chance that this warp is merely a statistical fluke of the limited observational sample of KBOs."

In other words, the effect is most likely a real signal rather than a statistical fluke. According to the calculations, an object with the mass of Mars orbiting roughly 60 AU from the sun on an orbit tilted by about eight degrees (to the average plane of the known planets) has sufficient gravitational influence to warp the orbital plane of the distant KBOs within about 10 AU to either side.

"The observed distant KBOs are concentrated in a ring about 30 AU wide and would feel the gravity of such a planetary mass object over time," Volk said, "so hypothesizing one planetary mass to cause the observed warp is not unreasonable across that distance."

This rules out the possibility that the postulated object in this case could be the hypothetical Planet Nine, whose existence has been suggested based on other observations. That planet is predicted to be much more massive (about 10 Earth masses) and much farther out at 500 to 700 AU.

"That is too far away to influence these KBOs," Volk said. "It certainly has to be much closer than 100 AU to substantially affect the KBOs in that range."

Because a planet, by definition, has to have cleared its orbit of minor planets such as KBOs, the authors refer to the hypothetical mass as a planetary mass object. The data also do not rule out the possibility that the warp could result from more than one planetary mass object.

So why haven't we found it yet? Most likely, according to Malhotra and Volk, because we haven't yet searched the entire sky for distant solar system objects. The most likely place a planetary mass object could be hiding would be in the galactic plane, an area so densely packed with stars that solar system surveys tend to avoid it.

"The chance that we have not found such an object of the right brightness and distance simply because of the limitations of the surveys is estimated to be to about 30 percent," Volk said.

A possible alternative to an unseen object that could have ruffled the plane of outer Kuiper Belt objects could be a star that buzzed the solar system in recent (by astronomical standards) history, the authors said.

"A passing star would draw all the 'spinning tops' in one direction," Malhotra said. “Once the star is gone, all the KBOs will go back to precessing around their previous plane. That would have required an extremely close passage at about 100 AU, and the warp would be erased within 10 million years, so we don't consider this a likely scenario."

Humankind's chance to catch a glimpse of the mysterious object might come fairly soon once construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is completed. Run by a consortium that includes the UA and scheduled for first light in 2020, the instrument will take unprecedented, real-time surveys of the sky, night after night.

"We expect LSST to bring the number of observed KBOs from currently about 2000 to 40,000," Malhotra said. "There are a lot more KBOs out there — we just have not seen them yet. Some of them are too far and dim even for LSST to spot, but because the telescope will cover the sky much more comprehensively than current surveys, it should be able to detect this object, if it's out there."


Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed

Artist concept of 2018 VG18 “Farout”. Credit Roberto Molar Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science.

A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our Solar System. It is the first known Solar System object that has been detected at a distance that is more than 100 times farther than Earth is from the Sun.

The new object was announced on Monday, December 17, 2018, by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center and has been given the provisional designation 2018 VG18. The discovery was made by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen, and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo.

2018 VG18, nicknamed “Farout” by the discovery team for its extremely distant location, is at about 120 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is defined as the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The second-most-distant observed Solar System object is Eris, at about 96 AU. Pluto is currently at about 34 AU, making 2018 VG18 more than three-and-a-half times more distant than the Solar System’s most-famous dwarf planet.

2018 VG18 was discovered as part of the team’s continuing search for extremely distant Solar System objects, including the suspected Planet X, which is sometimes also called Planet 9. In October, the same group of researchers announced the discovery of another distant Solar System object, called 2015 TG387 and nicknamed “The Goblin,” because it was first seen near Halloween. The Goblin was discovered at about 80 AU and has an orbit that is consistent with it being influenced by an unseen Super-Earth-sized Planet X on the Solar System’s very distant fringes.

Solar System distances to scale showing the newly discovered 2018 VG18 “Farout” compared to other known Solar System objects. Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Scott S. Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science.

The existence of a ninth major planet at the fringes of the Solar System was first proposed by this same research team in 2014 when they discovered 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden, which is currently near 84 AU.

2015 TG387 and 2012 VP113 never get close enough to the Solar System’s giant planets, like Neptune and Jupiter, to have significant gravitational interactions with them. This means that these extremely distant objects can be probes of what is happening in the Solar System’s outer reaches. The team doesn’t know 2018 VG18’s orbit very well yet, so they have not been able to determine if it shows signs of being shaped by Planet X.

� VG18 is much more distant and slower moving than any other observed Solar System object, so it will take a few years to fully determine its orbit,” said Sheppard. “But it was found in a similar location on the sky to the other known extreme Solar System objects, suggesting it might have the same type of orbit that most of them do. The orbital similarities shown by many of the known small, distant Solar System bodies was the catalyst for our original assertion that there is a distant, massive planet at several hundred AU shepherding these smaller objects.”

“All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the Sun, its approximate diameter, and its color,” added Tholen “Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.”

The discovery images of 2018 VG18 were taken at the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii on November 10, 2018.

Discovery images of 2018 VG18 “Farout” from the Subaru Telescope on November 10, 2018. Farout moves between the two discovery images while the background stars and galaxies do not move over the 1 hour between images. Credit: Scott S. Sheppard/David Tholen.

Once 2018 VG18 was found, it needed to be re-observed to confirm its very distant nature. (It takes multiple nights of observing to accurately determine an object’s distance.) 2018 VG18 was seen for the second time in early December at the Magellan telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. These recovery observations were performed by the team with the addition of graduate student Will Oldroyd of Northern Arizona University. Over the next week, they monitored 2018 VG18 with the Magellan telescope to secure its path across the sky and obtain its basic physical properties such as brightness and color.

The Magellan observations confirmed that 2018 VG18 is around 120 AU, making it the first Solar System object observed beyond 100 AU. Its brightness suggests that it is about 500 km in diameter, likely making it spherical in shape and a dwarf planet. It has a pinkish hue, a color generally associated with ice-rich objects.

“This discovery is truly an international achievement in research using telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile, operated by Japan, as well as by a consortium of research institutions and universities in the United States,” concluded Trujillo. “With new wide-field digital cameras on some of the world’s largest telescopes, we are finally exploring our Solar System’s fringes, far beyond Pluto.”


Time to move

The MPC reports the object is about 51 Astronomical Units from the Sun – 1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Its orbit brings it comes as close to the Sun as 35 AU, while Pluto maintains an average distance of about 39 AU. “Someone should have found this before,” Brian Marsden, director of the MPC, told New Scientist.

One reason they did not is the object’s speed, suggests Stoss. Many surveys of Near Earth Objects take a trio of images spaced 20 minutes apart to search for telltale movement in relation to background stars.

But 2003 EL61 is too far away to detect its progress in that time. Ortiz’s survey compares images taken a day apart. “They give the object time to move,” Stoss says.

Another reason may be the plane of the object’s orbit, says Tommy Grav, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, US. That plane is tilted by 28° with respect to the orbital plane of most planets, where surveys tend to scan the skies for Near Earth Objects.


Why Aren’t Astronomers Paying More Attention To UFOs?

In this world, there are very few issues more polarizing than the notion of aliens. For as long as we’ve been recording history, humans have wondered whether we’re alone or not. Now that astronomy has advanced to the point where we know that:

  • the other stars in the sky are Suns like our own,
  • that at least 80% — and possibly as many as 100% — have planetary systems orbiting them,
  • that rocky, Earth-sized planets are common,
  • with many possessing the right orbits to have the potential for liquid water and maybe even life on their surface,
  • that in our galaxy alone, there are somewhere around 400 billion stars total,
  • and that, spread out across the observable Universe, there are approximately 2 trillion galaxies overall.

Given that life has survived, thrived, and evolved into something as complex, differentiated, intelligent, and technologically advanced as human beings here on Earth, it compels one to wonder: are we alone?

And moreover, if we aren’t alone, have technologically advanced aliens already arrived here on Earth? While there haven’t been any definitive extraterrestrials yet discovered here, the presence of UFOs — unidentified flying objects, or as they’ve recently been rebranded, UAPs, for unexplained aerial phenomena — has led some to believe that they may already be here. Yet scientists seem to be disinterested in this line of thought. Why is this the case? Let’s take an in-depth look, from an astronomer’s perspective.

When you’re thinking like a scientist, the top issue you’re typically concerned with is how we can advance the state of knowledge of humanity. Typically, there are things that are known with a strong degree of certainty, and that serves as our starting point. We can start with the idea that we know the laws of physics: General Relativity for gravitation, Quantum Field Theory for the other forces and interactions. We can also fold in all of the observations we’ve collected over the years, which we interpret through the lens of our cosmic theories. Combined, they’ve taught us an enormous amount about the Universe.

They’ve also led us to a picture where we have three robust lines of approach to searching for life beyond Earth.

  1. Searching for microbial life, either extinct or still extant, on other worlds in our Solar System. This is a direct approach, where we can send space probes to these moons and planets, looking for organisms and a variety of biochemical pathways.
  2. Searching for biosignatures on worlds outside of our Solar System, which involves looking at the chemical compositions and physical properties of their atmospheres and planetary surfaces, attempting to infer which worlds are rife with hints of inhabitation.
  3. And searching for technosignatures from elsewhere in the galaxy and Universe: at the speed of light, these signatures will be detectable as soon as they arrive on Earth.

But only rarely, in a similar vein, do scientists mention UFOs or UAPs as a possibility for alien life. Many outside the scientific community wonder about this. After all, isn’t it equally possible that aliens aren’t just waiting to be discovered in these locations where we’re looking, but that if alien life is plentiful, then perhaps there are species of aliens located throughout the galaxy that rose to prominence long before human beings did?

If that’s the case, wouldn’t they be advanced enough by now — even if they’re only a few thousand years ahead of us, technologically — that they could have spread throughout the galaxy, hiding their presence if they so wished, with capabilities that far exceed our own? That’s one possible explanation for these aerial phenomena, of course, but we also have to consider the other, more mundane ones.

Recently, however, a series of documents and videos have been declassified by the United States government, including three videos of unexplained aerial phenomena that have recently gained a lot of attention. Let’s take a look at all three of them.

The first video, which was taken from a US Navy training flight in 2004, clearly shows an unidentified aerial object, displaying a shape similar to a tic tac: an elongated capsule. It appears in the instrument’s sights in the videos above, lasting a little over a minute, until it speedily moves off to the left side just prior to the video’s end.

This video, along with two others, was declassified and released by the Pentagon in 2020 after two leaks previously: one of this video in 2007 and two more of the subsequent videos (which were shot in 2015) in 2017. The release was accompanied by an acknowledgment “that these videos circulating in the public domain were indeed Navy videos.”

But you can judge a little better for yourself if you examine the other videos, which come with audio as well.

I have to fess up: when I first started watching this video, it looked to me like it was just an insect on the glass, moving along with the aircraft. But as the seconds ticked by, a few other phenomena became notable. First off, there was another bright white light in the upper left of the frame, that was clearly moving relative to both the plane and the unidentified object that was being tracked. Was this a part of the instrumentation, or was it a separate unidentified object?

But second, the main object began to move relative to the screen, rotating about its axis. It’s clear that, whatever this is, it’s difficult to explain away. For one, the plane is clearly high above the clouds, which appear below the craft in the video. You can also note that the audio reveals, “there’s a whole fleet of them” and the pilot expresses surprise at what they’re seeing, remarking, “that’s not one of ours, is it?”

Whatever explanation you might concoct for the second video, however, clearly doesn’t apply to the third, which is also from 2015 footage.

This time, there’s a very fast-moving object that they’re attempting to lock onto and track, and you can hear the (very human) emotion that I can only describe as, “Oh yeah!” Clearly, when they capture it in their sights, it leads to a moment of elation. Despite the fact that it’s just a fast-moving white speck, it’s clearly moving rapidly over the water below.

Regardless of what it is, these three videos, released in April of 2020 while the novel coronavirus was still in its first major wave of infections and deaths, spurred the following statement from the Department of Defense:

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena. DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as “unidentified.””

When you approach the world like a scientist, your first thought should always be to consider what we call “the null hypothesis.” In science, the null hypothesis basically asks the question, “based on what we know exists today and how we conceive of the world and Universe working, is there a completely sufficient explanation for what we saw that doesn’t invoke anything extraordinary?”

Something extraordinary would include possibilities like new laws of nature, novel technologies that have never been seen before, aliens, or some sort of divine intervention. These lines of thought, however eager we are to pursue them, should only be considered if the null hypothesis can be ruled out.

So what would be explanations for these videos that don’t invoke something extraordinary? Perhaps surprisingly, there are many.

Nobody is disputing that these are unidentified objects, they are flying through the air, they are oddly shaped, and they appear to be obeying the laws of physics. However, that doesn’t mean it’s so easy to identify what they are. Possibilities include:

  • natural phenomena like birds or reflective materials caught in an updraft,
  • some type of drone or uncrewed vehicle,
  • another aircraft that’s part of a government or industrial program that isn’t widely known,
  • an object from a foreign government or a civilian entity, such as a drone,
  • some sort of insect on the instruments (perhaps only for one of the videos),
  • someone from within the US Navy pranking the pilots and/or flight engineers by putting a simulated “bogey” into their instruments,
  • or that this is some type of bizarre atmospheric and/or optical phenomena, appearing like an aircraft but not actually being one.

Some of these are more likely than others, of course, but this isn’t meant to either be an exhaustive list of possibilities nor is it meant to be a list of likely outcomes. It’s meant to illustrate the types of explanations that must be considered and ruled out if one is to abandon the null hypothesis. The angles and magnitudes of accelerations may be unusual, but they are consistent with those achieved by modern military technologies such as missiles the null hypothesis is not so easy to rule out.

What would it take to do that?

We would need better observations and data, over long periods of time, that confirmed what we were seeing and measuring. We would need to perform tests and thoroughly examine objects without secrecy, and conduct our investigations openly and in a reproducible fashion. And we would need to gather data that could potentially discern the origin and nature of such a phenomenon. Unfortunately, in this case, we only have the data and information that we have.

So why is all of this coming to light now, and why is it creating such a stir?

According to Lue Elizondo, the original head of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) that investigated and tracked these UFO/UAP phenomena from 2007–2012,

“The government has already stated for the record that they’re real… The mission of AATIP was quite simple, it was to collect and analyze information involving anomalous aerial vehicles, what in the vernacular you call them UFOs we call them UAPs… I’m telling you, it’s real. The question is, what is it? What are its intentions? What are its capabilities?”

This doesn’t necessarily mean “aliens,” of course. It could be a foreign or domestic set of agents — working either with or without the government’s knowledge in some capacity — that are in our airspace for some reason. The main concern cited is that this could pose a hazard to aviation safety, which fortunately has never yet occurred.

What’s highly suspicious about this, however, is that the entire publicity campaign surrounding this set of phenomena, and Elizondo himself, seems to be working under the auspices not of the United States government, but rather from an entertainment company fronted by Tom DeLonge (of Blink-182 fame) called To The Stars… Academy of Arts & Sciences. This publicity blitz only started in 2017, when Elizondo joined the then-almost-defunct original incarnation of To The Stars, refocusing it on paranormal studies and on the UFO/UAP phenomenon in particular.

The concern, of course, is that these are nothing but mundane, terrestrial, possibly even human-created phenomena, that are being disingenuously promoted to the general public as being something extraordinary as a means to further sow distrust in both science and government. However, the conspiracy-laden idea that scientists know more about these than we’re letting on is absurd. As Benjamin Franklin famously put it, “three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

The reason scientists don’t talk very much about UFOs or UAPs is simple: without sufficient data, we cannot draw any meaningful conclusions. It’s very easy to throw out an idea (or a guess) as to what each of these videos might actually be showing, and many scientists and non-scientists alike have eagerly done exactly that. However, what we’d like to do, as scientists, is to gather enough data to determine what these objects are likely to be. At present, it would be the height of irresponsibility to claim that we have that information.

We simply don’t know what they are. Are they unidentified? Absolutely. Unexplained? At least so far. Are they “flying” or aerial entities? Almost certainly they certainly appear to be. And are they objects or phenomena? Sure those words are nebulous enough that they apply equally to jumbo jets as they do to aurorae. What you mustn’t do, however, is to draw a fantastic conclusion — like “these objects must be aliens” — without sufficient evidence to do so. Given that these UFOs/UAPs are most frequently seen in areas with military presences, and have never been recorded in the professional telescopes of astronomers, the null hypothesis of these being terrestrial phenomena must continue to be our default position.


Signs of a hidden Planet Nine in the solar system may not hold up

Planet Nine (illustrated) is a hypothetical giant planet hiding at the solar system’s edge — but new work suggests the evidence for it is a mirage.

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February 22, 2021 at 6:00 am

Planet Nine might be a mirage. What once looked like evidence for a massive planet hiding at the solar system’s edge may be an illusion, a new study suggests.

“We can’t rule it out,” says Kevin Napier, a physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But there’s not necessarily a reason to rule it in.”

Previous work has suggested that a number of far-out objects in the solar system cluster in the sky as if they are being shepherded by an unseen giant planet, at least 10 times the mass of Earth. Astronomers dubbed the invisible world Planet Nine or Planet X.

Now, a new analysis of 14 of those remote bodies shows no evidence for such clustering, knocking down the primary reason to believe in Planet Nine. Napier and colleagues reported the results February 10 at arXiv.org in a paper to appear in the Planetary Science Journal.

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The idea of a distant planet lurking far beyond Neptune received a surge in interest in 2014, when astronomers Chad Trujillo of Northern Arizona University and Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science reported a collection of distant solar system bodies called trans-Neptunian objects with strangely bunched-up orbits (SN: 11/14/14).

In 2016, Caltech planetary scientists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin used six trans-Neptunian objects to refine the possible properties of Planet Nine, pinning it to an orbit between 500 and 600 times as far from the sun as Earth’s (SN: 7/5/16).

But those earlier studies all relied on just a handful of objects that may not have represented everything that’s out there, says Gary Bernstein, an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania. The objects might have seemed to show up in certain parts of the sky only because that’s where astronomers happened to look.

“It’s important to know what you couldn’t see, in addition to what you did see,” he says.

To account for that uncertainty, Napier, Bernstein and colleagues combined observations from three surveys — the Dark Energy Survey, the Outer Solar System Origins Survey and the original survey run by Sheppard and Trujillo — to assess 14 trans-Neptunian objects, more than twice as many as in the 2016 study. These objects all reside between 233 and 1,560 times as far from the sun as Earth.

The team then ran computer simulations of about 10 billion fake trans-Neptunian objects, distributed randomly all around the sky, and checked to see if their positions matched what the surveys should be able to see. They did.

“It really looks like we just find things where we look,” Napier says. It’s sort of like if you lost your keys at night and searched for them under a streetlamp, not because you thought they were there, but because that’s where the light was. The new study basically points out the streetlamps.

“Once you see where the lampposts really are, it becomes more clear that there is some serious selection bias going on with the discovery of these objects,” Napier says. That means the objects are just as likely to be distributed randomly across the sky as they are to be clumped up.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Planet Nine is done for, he says.

“On Twitter, people have been very into saying that this kills Planet Nine,” Napier says. “I want to be very careful to mention that this does not kill Planet Nine. But it’s not good for Planet Nine.”

There are other mysteries of the solar system that Planet Nine would have neatly explained, says astronomer Samantha Lawler of the University of Regina in Canada, who was not involved in the new study. A distant planet could explain why some far-out solar system objects have orbits that are tilted relative to those of the larger planets or where proto-comets called centaurs come from (SN: 8/18/20). That was part of the appeal of the Planet Nine hypothesis.

“But the entire reason for it was the clustering of these orbits,” she says. “If that clustering is not real, then there’s no reason to believe there is a giant planet in the distant solar system that we haven’t discovered yet.”

Batygin, one of the authors of the 2016 paper, isn’t ready to give up. “I’m still quite optimistic about Planet Nine,” he says. He compares Napier’s argument to seeing a group of bears in the forest: If you see a bunch of bears to the east, you might think there was a bear cave there. “But Napier is saying the bears are all around us, because we haven’t checked everywhere,” Batygin says. “That logical jump is not one you can make.”

Evidence for Planet Nine should show up only in the orbits of objects that are stable over billions of years, Batygin adds. But the new study, he says, is “strongly contaminated” by unstable objects — bodies that may have been nudged by Neptune and lost their position in the cluster or could be on their way to leaving the solar system entirely. “If you mix dirt with your ice cream, you’re going to mostly taste dirt,” he says.

Lawler says there’s not a consensus among people who study trans-Neptunian objects about which ones are stable and which ones are not.

Everyone agrees, though, that in order to prove Planet Nine’s existence or nonexistence, astronomers need to discover more trans-Neptunian objects. The Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile should find hundreds more after it begins surveying the sky in 2023 (SN: 1/10/20).

“There always may be some gap in our understanding,” Napier says. “That’s why we keep looking.”

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at [email protected]

A version of this article appears in the March 13, 2021 issue of Science News.


Scientists Reveal How Many Interstellar Objects May Be Visiting Our Solar System

In October 19th, 2017, the first interstellar object ever detected flew past Earth on its way out of the Solar System. Less than two years later, a second object was detected, an easily-identified interstellar comet designated as 2I/Borisov.

The appearance of these two objects verified earlier theoretical work that concluded that interstellar objects (ISOs) regularly enter our Solar System.

The question of how often this happens has been the subject of considerable research since then. According to a new study led by researchers from the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is), roughly seven ISOs enter our Solar System every year and follow predictable orbits while they are here.

This research could allow us to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with one of these objects in the near future.

The research that describes these findings was conducted by multiple researchers from i4is, a non-profit organization dedicated to the realization of interstellar flight in the very near future.

'Oumuamua through the William Herschel Telescope. (Queen's University Belfast/William Herschel Telescope)

The study of 'Oumuamua in October of 2017 set off a revolution in astronomy and the study of celestial objects. Not only was this an object that had formed in another star system, but its arrival and detection implied a large population of such objects.

The detection of 2I/Borisov in 2019 confirmed what many astronomers already suspected – that ISOs enter our Solar System on a pretty regular basis.

In addition to being a physicist with the i4is (and the lead author on the study), Marshall Eubanks is the Chief Scientist of Space Initiatives Inc. and CEO of Asteroid Initiatives LLC. As he told Universe Today via email, the discovery of 'Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov is significant in a way that cannot be understated:

"[J]ust by proving that they exist, it has had a profound impact, creating a field of study almost from nothing (a field that funding authorities are just beginning to recognize). Interstellar Objects provide us with the opportunity to study, and in the future literally touch, exobodies decades before the earliest possible missions to even the nearest stars, such as Proxima Centauri."

This led to multiple proposals for missions that could rendezvous with future ISOs that were spotted passing through our system. One such proposal was Project Lyra, which researchers from the i4is shared in a 2017 study (with support from Asteroid Initiatives LLC).

There's also the ESA's Comet Interceptor mission, which they plan to launch in 2029 to rendezvous with a long-period comet.

"We started working on potential missions to interstellar objects in 2017, right after the discovery of 'Oumuamua and we initially rather focused on chasing that specific object, in contrast to Seligman & Laughlin, who focused on ISOs that might be discovered in the future," said Eubanks.

"The Comet Interceptor mission would fall into a similar category (build-and-wait)."

Given that ISOs formed in another star system, the opportunity to study them up close would offer scientists insight into the conditions that are present there. In fact, the study of ISOs is the next best thing to sending interstellar probes to neighboring star systems.

Of course, any such mission entails a lot of technical challenges, not to mention the need for advance warning. As Eubanks explained:

"There are two basic types of missions here – plan and wait, or launch and wait, missions, such as the ESA Comet Interceptor, and chase missions, such as would be needed to reach 1I/'Oumuamua. It is very unlikely that any chase missions will be able to rendezvous with a retreating ISO – these will almost certainly be restricted to fast flybys. Rendezvous missions, missions to match velocities and orbit or land the ISO, will need advance warning."

To illustrate, when astronomers first became aware of 'Oumuamua, it was only after the object had already made its closest approach to the Sun (aka. perihelion passage) and made a close pass by Earth.

Because of this, observers had only 11 days to conduct observations as it made its way out of the Solar System and was beyond the reach of their instruments.

Artist's impression of 2I/Borisov beyond our Solar System. (S. DagnelloNRAO/NSF/AUI)

In the case of 2I/Borisov, amateur astronomer and telescope-maker Gennadiy Borisov caught sight of it on August 30th, 2019, roughly three months before it reached perihelion (December 8th, 2019).

But for future missions to rendezvous with them, it is imperative to know as much as possible about how often ISOs arrive and how fast they are traveling when they do.

For the sake of their study, Eubanks and his colleagues sought to place better constraints on these two variables. To do this, they began by taking into account how an interstellar object's velocity is influenced by the local standard of rest (LSR) – the mean motion of stars, gas, and dust in the Milky Way in the vicinity of the Sun:

"We assume that ISOs come from or are formed with stars and their planetary systems, and that after they are on their own they share the same galactic dynamics as stars do. We use the two known ISOs, 1I/'Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov, and the efficiency of past and current astronomical surveys to estimate the number of these objects in the galaxy, and stellar velocity estimates from the Gaia mission to estimate the velocity spread we should expect."

What they found was that in an average year, the Solar System would be visited by up to seven ISOs that are asteroid-like. Meanwhile, objects like 2I/Borisov (comets) would be rarer, appearing around once every 10 to 20 years.

They further found that many of these objects would be moving at velocities greater that of 'Oumuamua – which was moving at over 26 km/s before and after picking up a boost from the Sun.

Knowing these parameters will help scientists prepare for possible rendezvous missions with ISOs, something which Eubanks and his colleagues covered in more detail in a previous study – "Interstellar Now! Missions to Explore Nearby Interstellar Objects".

As Universe Today reported at the time of its release, the study addressed a wider range of potential ISOs and the feasibility of reaching them.

In the meantime, this latest study provides basic information that will support the planning and implementation of these missions. In addition to Project Lyra and the ESA's Comet Interceptor, there are numerous proposals for spacecraft that could rendezvous with interstellar objects (or even make the interstellar journey themselves).

These include Project Dragonfly, a small spacecraft and laser sail that was the subject of a conceptual design study hosted by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4iS) in 2013.

Another is Breakthrough Starshot, a concept put forward by Yuri Milner and Breakthrough Initiatives that also calls for a tiny spacecraft to be sent to Alpha Centauri using a lightsail and a powerful laser array.

This proposal has been articulated in recent years by Prof. Abraham Loeb and Prof. Manasvi Lingam. Whereas Leob is the founder of the ITC and Chair of the Starshot Advisory Committee, Lingham is a longtime researcher with the ITC and a co-author on the "Interstellar Now!" and this latest paper.

In addition to going interstellar, these concepts have been proposed as a possible way of "chasing objects" that enter our Solar System.

One way or another, we will be peaking at other star systems soon! And knowing how to intercept and study the objects they periodically kick our way is a good way to start!

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.