2012 VP113 was first observed in November 2012 and announced earlier today. It is the most distant dwarf planet to be found orbiting our sun.
It is approximately 280 miles wide (450km) and orbits beyond the comet-rich Kuiper Belt in a region at the very edge of the system called the Oort cloud.
2012 VP113 is around half the diameter of dwarf planet Sedna, discovered a decade ago, and lies 80 times further from the sun than the Earth.
The similarity in the orbits for Sedna and 2012 VP113 points to an as yet undiscovered ‘Super Earth’.
The two dwarf planets are among of thousands of objects believed to form the inner Oort cloud and were found to have a similar orbit, suggesting the presence of a planet up to 10 times the size of Earth.
Dr Linda Elkins-Tanton, of the Carnegie Institution in the United States, said: ‘This is an extraordinary result that redefines our understanding of our Solar System.’
WHAT IS THE OORT CLOUD?
The observable solar system is divided into three distinct regions including the rocky terrestrial planets such as Earth, the gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter, and the icy Kuiper Belt objects – beyond which lies the Oort cloud.
There are three theories for how the inner Oort cloud could have formed.
One is a rogue planet could have been tossed out of the giant planet region and perturbed objects out of the Kuiper Belt on its way.
This could have been ejected or still be in the distant solar system today.
The second claims a close stellar encounter could put objects into the inner Oort cloud region, while the third theory suggests inner Oort cloud objects are extra-solar planets captured by other stars that were near our sun in its birth cluster.
The total population of the inner Oort cloud is likely bigger than that of the Kuiper Belt and main asteroid belt.