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HubbleSite Farthest, Faintest Solar System Objects Found Beyond Neptune


Space Telescope Science

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered three of the faintest and smallest objects ever detected beyond Neptune. Each object is a lump of ice and rock - roughly the size of Philadelphia - orbiting beyond Neptune and Pluto, where the icy bodies may have dwelled since the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. They reside in a ring-shaped region called the Kuiper Belt, which houses a swarm of icy rocks that are leftover building blocks, or "planetesimals," from the solar system's creation. The biggest surprise of the Hubble search is that so few small Kuiper Belt members were discovered. With Hubble's exquisite resolution, Bernstein and his co-workers expected to find at least 60 Kuiper Belt members as small as 10 miles (15 km) in diameter - but only three were found. Two snapshots, taken 12 hours apart, were combined to produce this Hubble Space Telescope image of a Kuiper Belt object (named 2000 FV53) moving across the sky. Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys tracked the object on Jan. 26, 2003. Like all the planets, this solar-system member appears to move relative to the fixed stars and galaxies in the background. This particular object was discovered from Hawaii in March 2000 and used to help target the Hubble observations.

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