139 new TNOs (trans-Neptunian objects) discovered while doing a dark energy survey

While conducting a Dark Energy Survey (DES) beyond Neptune, a team of scientists, led by a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, have identified 139 new TNOs (trans-Neptunian objects). TNOs are any "minor planets" (asteroids, dwarf planets, and other similar objects) that orbit the Sun beyond Jupiter.

Astronomers have spotted hundreds of tiny worlds lurking in the deep, dark outer reaches of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

These minor planets, known as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), “are relics of major dynamical events among and beyond the giant planets,” according to a study published this week in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

Some 139 new TNOs, out of 316 detections total, are reported in the study, which was led by Pedro Bernardinelli, a graduate student in physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. That’s a big haul considering that the current catalog of TNOs contains only about 3,000 objects, and was possible thanks to the Dark Energy Survey (DES) at the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile.

The team has only analyzed 4 of the 6 years of collected data. When finished, they suspect they will add around another 200 TNOs to their tally.

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Supersharp image of planet Neptune taken from the ground

This isn't taken by a far-flung probe on its way to Alpha Centauri, but from the ground on planet Earth. The European Space Agency: A "new technique called laser tomography [captures] images from the ground at visible wavelengths that are sharper than those from #Hubble."

To achieve this four brilliant lasers are fixed to UT4 that project columns of intense orange light 30 centimetres in diameter into the sky, stimulating sodium atoms high in the atmosphere and creating artificial Laser Guide Stars. Adaptive optics systems use the light from these “stars” to determine the turbulence in the atmosphere and calculate corrections one thousand times per second, commanding the thin, deformable secondary mirror of UT4 to constantly alter its shape, correcting for the distorted light.

Whoa.

Image: European Southern Observatory / P. Weibacher (AIP) Read the rest