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Astronomers Have Found the Most Distant Dwarf Planet in the Solar System to Date

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Artist concept of 2018 VG18, nicknamed "Farout." (Credit: Illustration by Roberto Molar Candanosa is courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.)

An artist’s visualization of the newly discovered dwarf planet 2018 VG18, or “Farout,” with our sun in the background. (Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science)

A Far-Out Planet

An ambitious team of astronomers has discovered the most “far out” object ever observed in our Solar System. The object, a pink dwarf planet called 2018 VG18 and nicknamed “Farout,” lies more than 100 times further from the sun than the Earth is.

This discovery, made by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo, was formally announced today (Dec. 17) by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. Farout is about 120 AU away — 1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun — making it the first object discovered at over 100 AU. Farout is significantly farther than the now second most-distant object Eris, which is at about 96 AU. The pink dwarf planet is more than three-and-a-half times more distant than the famous, blue dwarf planet Pluto.

It’s not hard to figure out where the nickname comes from. But, according to Sheppard, it has a double meaning. In addition to Farout being so distant, Sheppard said that when he first saw the planet he shouted out loud: “far out!”

The team discovered Farout using the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope located in Hawaii. The first discovery images were taken Nov. 10, 2018. The object was observed a second time earlier this month at the Magellan telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. These secondary observations allowed the team to follow the object’s path across the sky and determine its brightness and color.

From these observations, the team found that dwarf planet is fairly sizable, about 310 miles (500 km) in diameter or roughly 1/3 the size of Pluto, Sheppard said. The dwarf planet also has a pinkish hue likely caused by the object being rich in ice.

Planet X

While a significant discovery on its own, finding Farout might also support the search for “Planet X” — a theoretical planet whose existence was first proposed by this same research team after discovering another distant solar system object.

Farout and other distant bodies seem to move in a strange harmony best explained by the existence of an as-yet-unseen massive planet beyond Neptune in the Solar System. But it will be at least a year, and likely more, before researchers understand Farout’s orbit enough to say if it actually provides evidence for Planet X.

While the team’s main focus is looking for Planet X, they continue to keep their eyes peeled for other objects in the same general vicinity. Farout is one such unexpected prize from the the search. Another, “The Goblin” was found earlier this year by the same team.

Further study of our system’s outer edge, along with the likely discovery of more objects like Farout, will continue to inform the search for Planet X. “We’ve started searching as much sky as we can,” Sheppard said. “We hope to find a few more of these in the future.”

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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