Space scientists have discovered a new celestial body which might be the smallest such planet to exist in our solar system. Astronomers from European South Observatory (ESO) have found a tiny planet previously termed as an asteroid called Hygiea and said that it may be the smallest dwarf planet of our solar system sized at 430 kilometres (267 miles) in diametre.
According to the criteria which defines celestial bodies as dwarf planets instead of asteroids, is that it needs to have sufficient mass for the gravity to pull it into a a shape of a sphere. As per the image shared by the ESO, Hygiea meets that requirement.
“Thanks to the unique capability of the SPHERE instrument on the VLT, which is one of the most powerful imaging systems in the world, we could resolve Hygiea’s shape, which turns out to be nearly spherical,” lead researcher Pierre Vernazza from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France said in a release. He further added that based on these images, Hygiea may get reclassified as a dwarf planet and the smallest in the Solar System so far.
However, before Hygiea can get officially be given the status of a dwarf planet, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the group of astronomers, need to review all the evidence and hold a vote. The IAU is the same group that was responsible for making Pluto a dwarf planet back in 2006. Pluto is sized at 2400 kilometres (1491 miles) in diameter.
According to a report by Digital Trends, at the recently held International Astronautical Congress, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had pointed out that there is an ocean in Pluto under its surface. It also has complex organic compounds and its own moons, which makes it look like a regular planet to most people.
One of the criteria of terming a planet as regular one or a dwarf is that it needs to clear the neighbouring region around its orbit which means that it should be the celestial body that is gravitationally dominating in its orbital zone. Pluto fails to meet this particular criteria since it has multiple asteroids and other celestial objects in its orbital zone.
But according to veteran astronomer Dr Alan Stern, planets such as ours, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune also haven’t cleared their orbital zone. “If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn’t be there,” a BBC report quoted him as saying in 2006.
Studies of planets and asteroids in depth has been possible due to more powerful telescopes. “Thanks to the VLT and the new generation adaptive-optics instrument SPHERE, we are now imaging main belt asteroids with unprecedented resolution, closing the gap between Earth-based and interplanetary mission observations,” Vernazza said in the ESO statement.