The ‘trans-Neptunian object’ (TNO) has been designated 2021 XD7 and was spotted by Richard Boyle using the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on 3 December.
The closest it gets to the Sun is still 30 times further than our own planet and extends twice as far outwards.
It takes 286 years for it to move around the Sun, and because of its great distance from Earth little is known about the planet – apart from that it is almost certainly smaller than even Pluto.
The exploration of TNOs could help scientists find the elusive ninth planet orbiting our closest star. Pluto, when it was discovered in 1930, was once considered the ninth, but it was eventually demoted to a dwarf planet.
The evidence for this was the orbits of five smaller objects in the same region – a configuration that has only a 0.007 per cent change of happening by chance.
Unfortunately, it is has been incredibly difficult to pin down the object with other astronomers claiming that there is “no evidence” of such a planet. They believe the apparent clustering is simply confirmation bias, discovered only because that is where telescopes were looking at the time, or due to other sensitivities in the equipment.
More TNOs are likely to be discovered next year with the construction of the survey telescope at the Vera Rubin Observatory in 2023.