OFF: Varuna, new space rock
henderson.120 at OSU.EDU
Thu May 24 13:34:55 EDT 2001
<in a manner of speaking>
"Watch out for those Red Lectroids, and their bloody trans-dimensional
overthrusters." Holy John Bigboute!
Pluto has new, far out peer
May 24, 2001 Posted: 2:01 PM EDT (1801 GMT)
(CNN) -- The unexpected size of a recently discovered body beyond Pluto has
scientists wondering if even larger objects lurk in the depths of the solar
After Pluto and its moon Charon, Varuna has been identified as the largest
known body in the Kuiper Belt, a ring composed of more than 70,000 cold,
dark and slow-moving objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, scientists announced
Using telescopes on a mountain peak in Hawaii, astronomers determined that
Varuna has a diameter of about 900 km (550 miles), compared to about 2,200
km (1,350 miles) for Pluto and 1,200 km (750 miles) for Charon.
Discovered in November, Varuna closes the gap between Pluto and the
previously largest known Kuiper-Belt object, which is around 600 km (350
miles), said astronomer Steve Tegler of Northern Arizona University.
"Pluto and Charon are not so unique in size now. Perhaps more Pluto-sized
objects or even larger objects remain undiscovered in the outer reaches of
the solar system."
Varuna could be the first of many such discoveries, predicted Tegler and a
colleague in an editorial entitled 'Almost Planet X' in the May 24 issue of
The essay accompanied an article detailing the new Varuna findings, written
by lead scientist David Jewitt of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii and
The trio found that Varuna reflects about 7 percent of the sunlight that
strikes its surface, considerably more than most identified objects in the
"The higher than guessed albedo (reflectivity) may be due to the presence of
some ice on the surface, but nothing like as much as Pluto can command,"
said Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory.
Varuna is much darker than Pluto, a frosty world with a seasonal atmosphere
that bounces back about 60 percent of the solar light that reaches it.
Some astronomers consider the new revelations vindication of the work of
Clyde Tombaugh, who in 1930 spotted Pluto during a search for the elusive
Planet X. Unconvinced that his icy find was his intended quarry, he kept
other sizable, distant objects.
More Kuiper Belt surprises may await astronomers after space shuttle
astronauts deploy an infrared telescope facility in 2002. The instrument is
expected to provide more precise measurements of objects in the distant
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