Tenth Planet Discovered? Now only another "Dwarf Planet"
Originally named Xena, but now named Eris
Astronomers at Palomar Observatory Discover a large object beyond Pluto
Discovery images of the new planet. The three images were taken
1 1/2 hours apart on the night of October 21st, 2003.
The planet can be seen very slowly moving across the sky over the course of
The planet, with the current temporary (and unfortunate) name 2003UB313, was
discovered in an ongoing survey at Palomar
Observatory's Samuel Oschin telescope by astronomers Mike Brown (Caltech),
Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory), and David Rabinowitz (Yale University).
The permanent name of the new planet is currently in limbo while committees
decide its fate. For those speculating that the name will be "Lila"
based on the web site name I must warn you that that is really just a sentimental
dad's early-morning-after-no-sleep naming of a web site for his three week old
daughter and one should not take it too seriously! Reports that the name is
to be "Xena" come from a misreading of an article in the New York
Times in which we discuss our internal code names that we use before we publically
announce the existence of the objects. Other code names have been "Santa"
(2003 EL61), "Easterbunny" (2005 FY9) and "Flying Dutchman"
(Sedna). Those are not intended to stick, though we have become fond of all
Information here will be continually updated as we learn more about this new
Artists concept of the view from the planet, looking back towards the distant
sun. Credit: Robert Hurt (IPAC)
What is it?
This new planet (see "What makes a planet?" below) is the largest
object found in orbit around the sun since the discovery of Neptune and its
moon Triton in 1846. It is larger than Pluto, discovered in 1930. Like Pluto,
the new planet is a member of the Kuiper belt, a swarm of icy bodies beyond
Neptune in orbit around the sun. Until this discovery Pluto was frequently described
as "the largest Kuiper belt object" in addition to being called a
planet. Pluto is now the second largest Kuiper belt object, while this is the
largest currently known.
Where is it?
The new planet is the most distant object ever seen in orbit around the sun,
even more distant than Sedna,
the planetoid discovered almost 2 years ago. It is almost 10 billion miles from
the sun and more than 3 times more distant than the next closest planet, Pluto
and takes more than twice as long to orbit the sun as Pluto.
A view of the solar system from the north down. The four circles show the
orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The yellow dot in the center
is the sun. The earth, if it were shown, would be inside the yellow dot representing
the sun. The orbits of the two outermost planets, along with their current positions,
are also shown. If you are worried because the sun appears to not be the focus
of the orbital ellipse you are very observant! But it is just a projection effect.
The see the full 3D orbit go to this very nice
At the time of the announcement (late July 2005), the new planet can be seen
high in the morning sky a few hours before the sun comes up in the constellation
Cetus. The planet can be seen using very high-end amateur equipment, but you
need to know where to look. The best way to find precise coordinates (of this
planet, or any other body in the solar system) is with JPL's
horizons system. Click on "select target" and then enter "2003
UB313" under small (!) bodies.
The orbit of the new planet is even more eccentric than that of Pluto. Pluto
moves from 30 to 50 times the sun-earth distance over its 250 year orbit, while
the new planet moves from 38 to 97 times the sun-earth distance over its 560
How big is it?
Usually when we first discover distant objects in the outer solar system we
don't know for sure how large they are. Why not? Because all we see is a dot
of light, like the top of the page. This dot of light is sunlight reflected
off the surface of the planet (interestingly the sunlight takes almost a day
to get out to the planet, reflect off of it, and get back to the earth!), but
we don't know if the object is bright because it is large or if it is bright
because it is highly reflective or both. In the case of the new planet, however,
we know that even if it is extremely reflective (like fresh snow, for example)
it still cannot be as bright as it is unless it is bigger than Pluto. Thus while
we don't know for certain the precise size, we know for certain that it is bigger
than Pluto. Here are some interesting guesses to how big it might be, based
on what the surface is like:
Type of surface
Amount of light reflected
inferred diameter of planet
fraction of Pluto's size
fresh snow on earth
(based on the similarity to Pluto of the spectrum [see
this is our best guess as to the size)
Charon (Pluto's moon)
Spitzer Space Telescope observations
are often the best way to find the size of objects in the outer solar system.
The Spitzer telescope measures the amount of heat coming from an object. If
we wanted to measure the size of a fire, for example, we could do it by measuring
the total amount of heat coming from the fire. The temperature of the flames
in a match and a bonfire are essentially the same, but a bonfire emits much
more heat because it is much bigger. The same is true of distant planets. Because
we know how far away the planet is we have a pretty good idea of the surface
temperature (a frosty 405 degrees below zero!), thus when we measure the total
heat we can tell how big the object is.
Though we tried earlier to measure the size using Spitzer, those observations
failed due to human error which caused the telescope to point in the wrong direction.
The Spitzer Space Telescope rarely makes such errors, but these observations
were extremely unusual in that they were of a moving object whose position could
not be obtained from pubically available web sites at JPL (since JPL didn't
yet know of the existence of the object). Instead, a string of human interaction
had to occur between our [correct] submission of the orbital elements and the
final pointing of the telescope. Somewhere in this string of interactions a
mistake was made. Two other Kuiper belt objects (2003 EL61 and 2005 FY9) were
observed in the same manner at the same time and the observations proceeded
without a glitch, leading us to initially assume that the 2003 UB313 observations
were correctly pointed also. The mistake was caught by one of the many extremely
careful members of the Spitzer Science Center. As soon as the mistake was caught
new observations were scheduled and safeguards were put into place to prevent
such an occurence again. Spitzer will again attempt to observe 2003 UB313 at
the end of the month.
In the meantime, we are attempting observing from the 30-meter IRAM telescope.
This telescope, like Spitzer, measures the heat output. But IRAM measures the
heat output in a region of the spectrum where much less heat is output. Nonetheless
we have high hopes that these observations will succeed. The combination of
Spitzer and IRAM will be especially powerful.
Yet another step to try to measure the size will be to observe the planet
with the Hubble Space Telescope
and see if we can do some very careful analysis to measure the size in a similar
manner as we did for the planetoid Quaoar.
These observations are already scheduled and will be taking place shortly, though
the observations are optimzed for detection of satellite rather than size measurement.
We are attempting to secure observations optimized for size measurement.
What is the new planet made out of?
We study the composition of distant objects by looking at sunlight reflected
off of them. The sunlight reflected off the surface of the earth, for example,
shows distinct signatures of the oxygen in earth's atmosphere, of photosynthetic
plants, and of abundant water, among other things. We have been using the Gemini
Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii to study the light reflected from the surface
of the new planet, and have found that the planet looks remarkably similar to
Pluto. A comparison of the two is shown below, where we show the amount of sunlight
reflected in near infrared light. This type of light, just beyond what is visible
to the human eye, is most sensitive to the types of ices expected on surfaces
in the outer solar system.
The plot above compares the amount of infrared sunlight of different colors
("wavelength") reflected from the new planet with the amount of sunlight
reflected from Pluto. The dips in the amount of sunlight, indicated with arrows,
are a characteristic signature of a surface covered with solid frozen methane.
Both Pluto and the new planet show these signatures. At the very low temperatures
of Pluto and the new planet, methane, which is in gaseous form on the earth,
is frozen solid. The interior of the planet, like the interior of Pluto, is
likely a mixture of rock and ice.
Pluto and the new planet are not completely identical, however. While Pluto's
surface is moderately red, the new planet appears almost gray. We are only now
beginning to try to understand why the colors differ so.
Pluto and the new planet are unlike the other 8 planets. Mercury, Venus, Earth,
and Mars are medium-sized rocky bodies which we call terrestrial planets. Jupiter,
Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are much larger and called giant planets. All of
these planets are on essentially circular orbits in a thin disk orbiting around
the sun. The two distant planets are a different type entirely. Both are made
of ice and rock, are on very eccentric orbits, and have their orbits tilted
with respect to the rest of the planets. The new planet is tilted an amazing
45 degrees away from the rest of the planets!
How was the new planet found?
We have been conducting an ongoing survey of the outer solar system using the
Palomar QUEST camera
and the Samuel
Oschin Telescope at Palomar
Observatory in Southern California. This survey has been operating since
the fall of 2001, with the switch to the QUEST camera happening in the summer
of 2003. To date we have found around 80 bright Kuiper belt objects.
To find objects, we take three pictures of a small region of the night sky over
three hours and look for something that moves. The many billions of stars and
galaxies visible in the sky appear stationary, while satellites, planets, asteroids,
and comets appear to move. The image below shows the three frames taken the
night of October 21st, 2003 where we found the new planet. Can you find the
The area of sky show here is approximately 0.015% of the amount of sky that
we look at every night, but even though we survey vast regions of the sky per
night, it is still going to take us about 5 years to look at all of the sky
visible from Palomar Observatory.
Happily for us (and our families) much of the work is done by computers. The
telescope is robotically controlled and sends its data to Pasadena every morning
where it is searched by a bank of 10 computers at Caltech. Each morning the
computers find approximately 100 potentially-moving objects that a human has
to look at. The vast majority are some flaw in the camera and are not real solar
system objects, but, occasionally, as seen above, a real object makes its presence
Because the new planet is so far away it is moving slower than most of the
objects that we find. It is moving so slowly, in fact, that our computers didn't
notice it the first time around! We began a special reanalysis a year later
to specifically look for very distant objects. This reanalysis found the new
planet at 11:20AM PST on January 5th 2005, almost 1 1/2 years after the initial
data were obtained. Note that initial reports suggested that the discovery date
was January 8th. We apologize for the mistake; it was caused because of the
craziness surrounding the first day of announcement. We didn't have time to
check our notes and apparently our memories are not as good as they used to
What is the real name going to be?
When a new object is discovered the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gives
it a temporary designation based on the date it was first seen. Thus 2003 UB313
can be decoded to tell you that the data from which the object was discovered
was obtained in the second half of October 2003. Next, the discoverers propose
a permanent name. We have proposed such a name and are eagerly awaiting the
ruling from the IAU, which we hope will come soon. Until that time, however,
we are obligated to keep our name to ourselves. But we are free to discuss naming
As with everything else in this universe, there are official rules whereby a
new body must be named. Interestingly, it is not entirely clear which rules
this new planet falls under, since no one expected to find new planets so no
rules actually exist. If the object falls under the rules for other Kuiper belt
objects, however, it must be named after some figure in a creation mythology.
We have decided to attempt to follow that ruling scheme.
All of the other planets are named for Greek or Roman gods, so an obvious suggestion
is to attempt to find such a name for the new planet. Unfortunately, most of
the Greek or Roman god names (particularly those associated with creation, which
tend to be the major gods) were used back when the first asteroids were being
discovered. If a name is already taken by an asteroid, the IAU would not allow
that name to be used again. One such particularly apt name would have been Persephone.
In Greek mythology Persephone is the (forcibly abducted) wife of Hades (Roman
Pluto) who spends six months each year underground close to Hades. The new planet
is on an orbit that could be described in similar terms; half of the time it
is in the vicinity of Pluto and half of the time much further away. Sadly, the
name Persephone was used in 1895 as a name for the 399th known asteroid. The
perhaps more appropriate Roman version of the name, Proserpina, was used even
earlier for the 26th known asteroid. The same story can be told for almost any
other Greek or Roman god of any consequence. One exception to this name depletion
is the Roman god Vulcan (Greek Haphaestus), the god of fire. Astronomers have
long reserved that term, however, for a once hypothetical (now known to be nonexistent)
planet closer to the sun than Mercury (god of fire, near the sun, good name).
We would not want to use such a name to describe such a cold body as our new
Luckily, the world is full of mythological and spiritual traditions. In the
past we have named Kuiper belt objects after native American, Inuit, and [minor]
Roman gods. Our new proposed name expands to different traditions, still. We
hope it is accepted by the IAU and hope afterwards that it is embraced by all.
We have recently discussed the status of the object and of the name with members
of the IAU who decide such things. As far as we can determine several activities
are taking place:
A special committee of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)is trying
to decide precisely what to classify this as.
Another committee of the IAU which vets names for asteroids and Kuiper belt
objects is mulling over the name that we suggested upon discovery.
Yet another committee of the IAU which approves names for features on major
planets and satellites has suggested that if the object is declared a major
planet the naming falls strictly to them, and they have suggested that the name
should continue the Greco-Roman tradition of the previous planets. We have a
couple of interesting choices in mind in that case, though it is not clear that
we as the discoverers will necessarily have a say in this case.
It appears that with the dead month of August rolling around no one will be
making decision anytime soon, though the IAU has recently made an official
Is this object really a planet? Is Pluto a planet? What makes a planet?
Even after all of these years of debate on the subject of whether or not Pluto
should be considered a planet, astronomers appear no closer to agreement. I
wrote extensively about this at the time of the discovery of Sedna in March
2004. My thoughts have evolved since then, so it might be amusing to see what
I said 1 1/2 years ago. I have been heavily influenced by writing a scientific
review article this summer on the topic of "What is a planet?" with
my colleague Gibor Basri at U.C. Berkeley who I thank for his insights. The
main stumbling block in defining planets in our solar system is that, scientifically,
it is quite clear that Pluto should certainly not be put in the same category
as the other planets. Some astronomers have rather desperately attempted to
concoct solutions which keep Pluto a planet, but none of these are at all satisfactory,
as they also require calling dozens of other objects planets. While people are
perhaps prepared to go from 9 to 10 planets when something previously unknown
is discovered, it seems unlikely that many people would be happy if astronomers
suddenly said "we just decided, in fact, that there are 23 planets, and
we decided to let you know right now." There is no good scientific way
to keep Pluto a planet without doing serious disservice to the remainder of
the solar system.
Culturally, however, the idea that Pluto is a planet is enshrined in a million
different ways, from plastic placemats depicting the solar system that include
the nine planets, to official NASA web sites, to mnemonics that all school children
learn to keep the nine planets straight, to U.S. postage stamps. Our culture
has fully embraced the idea that Pluto is a planet and also fully embraced the
idea that things like large asteroids and large Kuiper belt objects are not
planets. "This cultural view is not scientifically consistent!" scream
the astronomer. Scientists have not yet realized that the term planet no longer
belongs to them. But, quite clearly, it does not. It is understandably hard
for scientists to let go of a word that they think they use scientifically (and
even in job titles like mine: "Professor of Planetary Astronomy"!)
but they need to. The word "planet" has been around much longer than
From now on, everyone should ignore the distracting debates of the scientists,
and planets in our solar system should be defined not by some attempt at forcing
a scientific definition on a thousands-of-years-old cultural term, but by simply
embracing culture. Pluto is a planet because culture says it is.
We are then left with two cultural choices. (1) Draw the line at Pluto and say
there are no more planets; or (2) Draw the line at Pluto and say only things
bigger are planets. Both would be culturally acceptable, but to me only the
second makes sense. In addition, the second continues to allow the possibility
that exploration will find a few more planets, which is a much more exciting
prospect than that suggested by the first possibility. We don't think the number
of planets found by the current generation of researchers will be large. Maybe
one or two more. But we think that letting future generations still have a shot
at planet-finding is nice.
Thus, we declare that the new object, with a size larger than Pluto, is indeed
a planet. A cultural planet, a historical planet. I will not argue that it is
a scientific planet, because there is no good scientific definition which fits
our solar system and our culture, and I have decided to let culture win this
one. We scientists can continue our debates, but I hope we are generally ignored.
What else is out there?
The last week of July 2005 was an exciting one for the outer solar system. In
the course of two days the existence of three new objects was announced, and
each object was brighter than all of the previously known objects in the Kuiper
belt (with the exception of Pluto). The first object, 2003
EL61, was announced by a team from Spain. The second two, this planet and
another new object named 2005 FY9, were announced from our survey the next day.
With so many bright objects coming out at once it is hard to keep them all straight.
Here is the quick score card:
Brown, Trujillo, Rabinowitz
Ortiz et al.
Brown, Trujillo, Rabinowitz
bigger than Pluto!
4th brightest Kuiper belt object (KBO)
3rd brightest KBO
2nd brightest KBO
closest approach to Sun
furthest from Sun
tilt to the ecliptic
when visib le
late summer, fall early winter
late winter, spring, early summer
late winter, spring, early summer
(note that though we consider Pluto and 2003 UB313 planets, they are also
clearly members of the Kuiper belt, with Pluto the brightest member)
Here is where these extremely bright Kuiper belt objects are in the solar system
Why the hasty announcement? What about the hacking? What is going on here?
Recent information has clarified much of what is described below. We no longer
believe that the sequence of events described below is correct. Details to follow
in a day or two. 8/10/2005
As has been widely reported in the press, the announcement of the new planet
was made in a rather hasty manner because of fears that our discovery was going
to be made public by someone who had hacked a web site and gained access to
information about where the object is. The details are a little more complicated
than this, the terminology can be debated ("hacked?" "sleuthed?"
"stole?" "stumbled across?") and not all are 100% clear
to me, but here is a reconstruction of the events that lead to the announcement
as best I can discern them. Some aspects remain mysterious.
In mid-July short abstracts of scientific talks to be given at a meeting in
September became available on the web (for example, here).
We intended to talk about the object now known as 2003 EL61, which we had discovered
around Christmas of 2004, and the abstracts were designed to whet the appetite
of the scientists who were attending the meeting. In these abstracts we call
the object a name that our software automatically assigned is, K40506A (the
first Kuiper belt object we discovered in data from 2004/05/06, May 6th). Using
this name was a very very bad idea on our part! Unbeknownst to us, some of the
telescopes that we had been using to study this object keep open logs of who
has been observing, where they have been observing, and what they have been
observing. A two-second Google search of "K40506A" immediately reveals
these observing logs. Ouch. Bad news for us. From the moment the abstracts became
public anyone on the planet with a web connection and a little curiosity about
this "K40506A" object could have found out where it was. Anyone on
the planet with even a modest-sized telescope could then go find the object
and claim a discovery as their own.
Interestingly, this is not what we then happened. The Spanish group headed by
J.-L. Ortiz legitimately discovered the object on their own in data from 2 and
3 years ago. The fact that this discovery happened days after the data were
potentially available on the web is, I believe, a coincidence. At the time,
however, some in the community privately expressed their concerns to me that
this coincidence was too good to be true and wanted to know if there was any
possible way that anyone could have found out the location of our object. I
insisted it was impossible. I was wrong. I myself went to Google late on the
night after the Spanish announcement, typed K40506A into Google, and let out
a gasp. Even though I don't believe the Spanish group did this, I realized anyone
could have found our object with very little effort. To be very clear, from
the first day I have very publicly stated that the official discovery credit
goes to Ortiz et al. and no one else. We are pleased to be joined by the Spanish
group in the very exciting quest for new objects in the outer solar system.
By Friday morning it occurred to me that once someone knew about the web site
where the information on where the telescopes we had been using had been pointing
it would take only a little more effort to carefully peruse this web site to
see if we had been looking at anything else moving in the sky. At this point
I contacted Brian Marsden at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet
Center (MPC) by email, told him confidentially about the two objects that we
had not yet announced (now known as 2003 UB313 and 2005 FY9), expressed my concerns
that someone may be able to nefariously find our data and attempt to claim credit
for discovering these objects, and sought his advice. His chilling response
came less than an hour later: someone had already used a web service of the
MPC to use past observations of an object to predict locations for tonight.
The past observations were precisely the logs from the telescope we had used!
The culprit and not even bothered to change the names that we used (K31021C
for 2003 UB313 and K50331A for 2005 FY9). At this point we had no choice but
to hastily pull together a press conference which was held at 4pm on the last
Friday in July, perhaps the single best time to announce news that you want
no one to hear.
All of this came about because of the perfect confluence of three factors: we
used our actual code name in publicly available abstracts (dumb on our part),
we assumed that no one would piece together information from the internet and
figure things out (naive on our part), someone with astronomical knowledge was
willing to go to some effort to obtain our data (unethical on their part). It's
true that the information was available without breaking into any sites. It's
also true that sometimes I don't lock the door to my house. I hope that people
don't think it's therefore OK to come in and take my stuff.
We have been greatly saddened by this experience but have learned many lessons.
It seems likely, however, that determined people with no ethics will continue
to find ways to cause problems in all fields.
Why does it take so long to announce these discoveries?
Soon after the announcement of the discovery of the new planet the suggestion
slowly made its way around the internet that we, the discoverers, were somehow
violating long standing scientific standards by keeping the existence of the
planet "secret" for so long. This suggestion seemed so bizarre to
us that we paid no attention at first, but, as with many things on the internet,
it has been repeated enough times even reasonable people are starting to believe
it. We would like to quickly dispell this odd misconception.
One of the things that is so strange about this allegation is that it should
also be made of every single scientific result that is published in a reputable
scientific journal. In all such cases, scientists make discoveries, they verify
their discoveries, they carefully document their discoveries, and they submit
papers to scientific journals. What they don't do is make discoveries and immediately
hold press conferences to announce them (one need only think back to the cold
fusion days to remember how thoroughly the scientific community condemns such
behavior). Good science is a careful and deliberate process. The time from discovery
to announcement in a scientific paper can be a couple of years. For all of our
past discoveries, we have described the objects in scientific papers before
publicly announcing the objects' existence, and we have made that announcement
in under nine months. These papers allow other astronomers to verify, confirm,
and critique the analysis we have done. Sadly, because we were forced to announce
2003 UB313 prematurely, we have still yet to complete the scientific paper describing
this object (it is now finally complete. see below). We find this situation
scientifically embarrassing and apologize to our colleagues who are reduced
to learning about this new object from reading reports in the press. We are
hard at work on this scientific paper, but, as we said above, good science is
a careful and deliberate process and we are not yet through with our analysis.
Our intent in all cases is to go from discovery to announcement in under nine
months. We think that is a pretty fast pace.
One could object to the above by noting that the existence of these objects
is never in doubt, so why not just announce the existence immediately upon discovery
and continue observing to learn more? This way other astronomers could also
study the new object. There are two reasons we don't do this. First, we have
dedicated a substantial part of our careers to this survey precisely so that
we can discover and have the first crack at studying the large objects in the
outer solar system. The discovery itself contains little of scientific interest.
Almost all of the science that we are interested in doing comes from studying
the object in detail after discovery. Announcing the existence of the objects
and letting other astronomers get the first detailed observations of these objects
would ruin the entire scientific point of spending so much effort on our survey.
Some have argued that doing things this way "harms science" by not
letting others make observations of the objects that we find. It is difficult
to understand how a nine month delay in studying an object that no one would
even know existed otherwise is in any way harmful to science!
Many other types of astronomical surveys are done for precisely the same reasons.
Astronomers survey the skies looking for ever higher redshift galaxies. When
they find them they study them and write a scientific paper. When the paper
comes out other astronomers learn of the distant galaxy and they too study it.
Other astronomers cull large databases such as the 2MASS infrared survey to
find rare objects like brown dwarves. When they find them they study them and
write a scientific paper. When the paper comes out other astronomers learn of
the brown dwarves and they study them in perhaps different ways. Still other
astronomers look around nearby stars for the elusive signs of directly detectable
extrasolar planets. When they find one they study it and write a scientific
paper..... You get the point. This is the way that the entire field of astronomy
-- and probably all of science -- works. It's a very effective system; people
who put in the tremendous effort to find these rare objects are rewarded with
getting to be the first to study them scientifically. Astronomers who are unwilling
or unable to put in the effort to search for the objects still get to study
them after a small delay.
There is a second reason that we don't announce objects immediately, and that
is because we feel a responsibility not just to our scientific colleagues but
to the public. We know that these large objects that keep being found are likely
to be the result of intensive interest by the public, and we would like to have
the story as complete as possible before making an announcement. Consider, for
example, the instantaneous Ortiz et al. announcement of the existence of 2003
EL61. Headlines in places like the BBC web site breathlessly exclaimed "new
object may be twice the size of Pluto." But even at the time we knew that
2003 EL61 had a satellite and was only 30% the mass of Pluto. We quickly got
the truth out, but just barely. Sadly, other interesting aspects of 2003 EL61
also got lost in the shuffle. No one got to hear that it rotates every 4 hours,
faster than anything else known in the Kuiper belt. Or how that fast rotation
causes it to be shaped like a cigar. Or how we use the existence of the satellite
to calculate the mass. All of these are interesting things that would have let
the public learn a bit more about the mysteries of physics and of the solar
system. In the press you get one chance to tell the story. In the case of the
instantaneous announcement of 2003 EL61 the story was simply "there is
a big object out there." We are saddened by the lost opportunity to tell
a richer scientific story and to have the public listen for just one day to
a tale that included a bit of astronomy, a bit of physics, and a bit of detective
Given that we do precisely what other astronomers do and that we are actually
very prompt about making announcements, where did the crazy ideas that we should
be announcing objects instantly come from? Interestingly, there is one area
of astronomy in which instantaneous announcement is both expected and beneficial
to all. In the study of rare, quickly changing objects, such as supernovae,
gamma ray bursts, comets, and near earth asteroids, astronomers quickly disseminate
their results so that as many people as possible can study the phenomenon before
it disappears or changes completely. No one discovers a comet and keeps it to
himself to study, because by the time the study was done the comet would be
gone and no one else could study it ever again. The people initially suggesting
that we were wrong to not announce our objects instantly are, for the most part,
a small group of amateur astronomers who are familiar with comet and near earth
asteroid observation protocols. We can only assume that this familiarity led
them to their misconceptions. Kuiper belt objects are not quickly changing phenomena.
Astronomers will be intensively studying 2003 UB313 for a long time to come.
We hope to discover a few more large objects in the outer solar system. When
we do, we will do everything we can to learn as much as possible about them
before we make their existence public, and we will try to make the announcement
as complete and scientifically and publicly interesting as possible. We will
take the chance -- as all scientists do -- that by taking the time to do the
scientific job correctly someone else may beat us to the announcement, and if
they do we will congratulate them heartily.
The scientific paper describing the discovery is finally done!
As described in detail elsewhere, we were forced to announce the existence of
2003 UB313 before we had finished a scientific paper describing the discovery.
While announcing discoveries via press releases with no scientific paper is
generally frowned upon by scientists (including us) our colleagues have been
understanding of the unusual circumstances under which this happened. The scientific
paper describing the discovery has just been submitted to the Astrophysical
Journal. If you are curious what one of these papers looks like you can read
the entire text. Now that the paper has been submitted to the journal, the journal
will send it out for peer-review, where another scientists will carefully and
critically read what we have read and help decide if the paper meets accepted
scientific standards. In almost all cases, the reviewer will suggest at least
some changes to the manuscript before the paper is finally accepted. This process
helps ensure that published scientific papers are as accurate and complete as
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