Fri, Feb 28, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Local astronomer helps probe Oort cloud, deep space

Staff writer, with CNA

A Taiwanese-Canadian program cosponsored by the National Science Council has made discoveries far out in space — beyond Neptune — that are expected to help solve some of the mysteries of the solar system.

In four years of observation using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the team of scientists discovered a sizeable object in the inner Oort cloud, as well as more than 90 smaller ones, said team member Chen Ying-tung (陳英同), a research assistant with the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The recently discovered object is about 300km in diameter, which is second in size only to a dwarf planet named Sedna, which was identified in 2003 in the inner Oort cloud, Chen said.

Based on the new planetary body and previous discoveries, scientists estimate that at least 10,000 objects populate the inner Oort cloud, or 10 times more than previously thought, he said.

The study can help scientists learn more about how the solar system was formed and specifically how planets such as Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune came into existence, Chen said.

It can also help shed light on the origins and the evolution of planets beyond the solar system, he added.

The doughnut-shaped inner Oort cloud and the spherical outer Oort cloud are believed to have been formed from materials ejected to the perimeter of the solar system when Uranus and Neptune were still taking shape. Most comets are believed to have formed in the Oort cloud.

Because of its distant location, the cloud is still shrouded in mystery. Named after Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, the Oort cloud is between 50 and 50,000 astronomical units from the sun.

An astronomical unit equals the average distance between the sun and the Earth, which is 149,597,870km.

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