18 Eylül 2010 Cumartesi


90377 Sedna is a trans-Neptunian object, discovered in 2003, which currently lies about three times as far from the Sun as Neptune. However, its farthest orbital distance from the Sun is estimated to be 960 astronomical units (AU), and thus it is, for the majority of its orbit, the most distant known object in the Solar System after long-period comets.

Roughly two-thirds the size of Pluto, Sedna is hypothetically large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, and thus would qualify as a dwarf planet under current definitions. However, its distance from the Sun makes determining its shape difficult. Spectroscopy has revealed that Sedna's surface composition is similar to that of some other trans-Neptunian objects, being largely a mixture of water, methane and nitrogen ices with tholins. Its surface is one of the reddest in the Solar System.

Sedna's exceptionally long and elongated orbit, taking approximately 12,000 years to complete, and distant point of closest approach to the Sun, at 76 AU, have led to much speculation as to its origin. The Minor Planet Center currently places Sedna in the scattered disc, a group of objects sent into highly elongated orbits by the gravitational influence of Neptune. However, this classification has been contested, as Sedna never comes close enough to Neptune to have been scattered by it, leading some astronomers to conclude that it is in fact the first known member of the inner Oort cloud. Others speculate that it might have been tugged into its current orbit by a passing star, perhaps one within the Sun's birth cluster, or even that it was captured from another star system. Another hypothesis suggests that its orbit may be evidence for a large planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. Astronomer Mike Brown, who co-discovered Sedna as well as the dwarf planets Eris, Haumea, and Makemake, believes it to be the most scientifically important trans-Neptunian object found to date, as understanding its peculiar orbit is likely to yield valuable information about the origin and early evolution of the Solar System.

Orbit and rotation

Barring comets, Sedna has the longest orbital period of any known object in the Solar System, calculated at between 11,800 and 12,100 years. This represents a best-fit solution, as Sedna has only been observed over a brief part of its orbital arc. Its orbit is extremely elliptical, with an aphelion estimated at 960 AU and a perihelion at about 76 AU. At its discovery it was approaching perihelion at 89.6 AU from the Sun, and was the most distant object in the Solar System yet observed. Eris was later detected by the same survey at 97 AU. Although the orbits of some long-period comets extend farther than that of Sedna, they are too dim to be discovered except when approaching perihelion in the inner Solar System. Even as Sedna nears its perihelion in late 2075 to mid 2076, the Sun would appear merely as a bright star in its sky: with an angular diameter too small to resolve as a disc, it would be only 100 times brighter than a full Moon on Earth.

When first discovered, Sedna was believed to have an unusually long rotational period (20 to 50 days). It was initially speculated that Sedna's rotation was slowed by the gravitational pull of a large binary companion, similar to Pluto's moon Charon. A search for such a satellite by the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2004 found nothing, and subsequent measurements from the MMT telescope suggest a much shorter rotation period, only about 10 hours, rather typical for bodies of its size.

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