Well over 100 new minor planets have been discovered in our solar system, in the darkness out beyond the orbit of Neptune. The discoveries were made by sifting through several years’ worth of data gathered by the Dark Energy Survey, and applying new techniques to study objects that the survey was never intended to search for.
Roughly 3,000 trans-Neptunian objects are known to be drifting around even further out, ranging from small asteroids and comets right up to dwarf planets like Pluto.
For the new study, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania took the first four years of that data and applied new analysis techniques to allow objects moving across the sky to be spotted.
Initially the team started with 7 billion dots, representing all kinds of astronomical objects in the survey’s field of vision.
From there, the team joined the dots to trace the paths of these transient objects.
These objects ranged in distance from about 30 astronomical units, which is close to Neptune’s orbit, right out to over 90 AU. The researchers say that in future they plan to apply the method to the entire six-year run of DES data, while looking for dimmer objects that might have been missed the first time around.