Magazine article Science News

Finding a Kuiper Belt King. (Hefty Discovery)

Magazine article Science News

Finding a Kuiper Belt King. (Hefty Discovery)

Article excerpt

A newly discovered celestial body appears to be the largest object that scientists have found in the solar system since their detection of Pluto in 1930. Designated 2002 LM60, it's unofficially known as Quaoar (pronounced Kwa-whar) after a Native American god.

Residing in the Kuiper belt, the reservoir of comets and other frozen bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune, Quaoar measures 1,300 kilometers in diameter, more than half the width of Pluto. Along with the finding of several other Kuiper belt behemoths over the past 2 years, the discovery suggests the region may harbor even larger bodies.

Michael E. Brown and Chadwick A. Trujillo of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena reported Quaoar's discovery this week at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Birmingham, Ala.

Brown and Trujillo found Quaoar on an image taken June 4 with a 48-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory near Escondido, Calif. Looking through archival images recorded at Palomar, the scientists also identified Quaoar in images from 1982, 1996, 2000, and 2001. Because they could trace the path of the body over a 20-year period, the astronomers were able to determine Quaoar's orbit and distance from Earth. The researchers then made further observations with two other detectors, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

Quaoar orbits the sun every 288 years in a near-perfect circle inclined by 7. …

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