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For more than 70 years, scientists have predicted the existence of a certain type of object in the outer Solar System. Of small size, it is believed that these potential bodies constitute an important initial step in the process of planetary formation. Because these hypothetical objects are only 1 to 10 km radius, it is difficult to identify them from where we are. But now astronomers think they have finally detected one of them.

As they looked at the sky for hours, they obtained evidence of an object as small as 1.3 kilometers in the vicinity of Pluto's orbit. The find could finally be a representative of this proposed class of small objects of the Kuiper Belt.

Given their small size and obscurity, objects can not be seen directly. Then the astronomers of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan tried another method - the concealment. That means they have to lie in wait and stare at a star, waiting for an object to pass in front of it and block some of its light.

They chose 2,000 stars and spent a total of 60 hours observing them with the help of two small 28-centimeter telescopes. The work was rewarded - the team found evidence of a tiny body called "planetesimal" orbiting the Sun at a distance of 32 astronomical units (UA). This really puts it within the orbital range of Pluto, which is between 29 and 49 AU.

This is the first time one of these planetesimals has been detected, the researchers said - and it is a wonderful feat considering the distances involved and the tools used.

"This is a real victory for small projects. Our team had less than 0.3% of the budget for major international projects. We did not even have enough money to build a second dome to protect our second telescope! Still, we have been able to make a discovery that was previously impossible for large projects, "said astronomer Ko Arimatsu.

We do not know for sure how planetary formation works, but according to the current hypothesis, it's a bit like this: After a star is born, it is surrounded by a disk of leftover dust and gas running in its orbit. Electrostatic forces begin to attach particles on this protoplanetary disk to each other, forming a cluster; As the cloud becomes larger, its gravitational force also increases, which collects more and more particles, further increasing the mass.

Here, a little closer to home, in our Solar System, the Kuiper Belt - a large disk of rocky, icy bodies that are beyond the orbit of Neptune - is considered a remnant of our ancient Solar System. It contains larger bodies, including dwarf planets such as Pluto (2,377 kilometers) and smaller ones like the 2014 MU69 (31 kilometers).

Because they are protected by ice and far from the radiation of the Sun, these bodies are considered capsules of time, preserving the conditions of the formation of the Solar System. And these objects between 1 and 10 kilometers are considered evidence of the point between the initial electrostatic dust aggregation and gravitational growth.

This finding, using relatively inexpensive telescopes on a rooftop in Japan, means that these planetesimals are likely to be more abundant than previously thought - good evidence that our planetary training model is on track. [ ScienceAlert ]

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