A recent study unveiled the binary origin of two trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs).
Two TNOs were spotted in an incredibly close gravitational configuration, using a stellar occultation. Such a thing happens when an object passes between Earth and a distant star, which “occults” or hides the star from view. Here is what you need to know.
Binary TNOs Intrigues Scientists: Features Revealed
According to scientists, most binary TNOs are separated, approximately 1,000 kilometers or more, but not the newly spotted ones.
The recent discovery was made possible thanks to RECON (the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network), a collection of 56 observations stations. Scientists Rodrigo Leiva and Marc Buie from the Southwest Research Institute led the study and trained high school teachers to operate the station an examine occultations to teach students how to do the same.
TNOs are some small frozen cosmic bodies that orbit the Sun beyond Neptune. The pair recently detected using a stellar occultation is quite intriguing. “[…] it is unusual that we had a binary star TNO occulting a binary star,” said Buie.
The scientists also noted that the features of the binary TNOs are also incredibly odd. The two components appear to be quite close, only 350 kilometers apart. Such closeness makes this kind of binary TNO challenging to track with other methods. But, not for RECON, which was specially developed to accomplish that task.
The RECON stations are usually situated in small regions along an ideal line, from the southern to the northern border of the US, for examining the stellar occultations. Eight additional stations were established two years ago in Canada by colleagues of Buie and Leiva.
From now on, Buie and Leiva will continue their work to search for other TNOs, previously unobserved. Their goal is to find whether close binaries are really unusual or not.
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