There is a lot to talk about lately: this dreadful never-ending election, spooky Halloween subjects, the president’s laudable plan to land humans on Mars, the fact that the Olympics have completely moved to East Asia….but, for the moment, let’s ignore all of that to talk about a ghastly dark snowball the size of Iowa. I am not talking about any old snowball, I am talking about 2014 UZ224, a dwarf planet which was recently discovered by an astronomy team at the University of Michigan.
2014 UZ224 has a diameter of about 530 kilometers (330 miles): it is about half the size of Pluto. Perhaps it is not even a true dwarf planet—but what else should we call it. Located deep in the Oort Cloud, the little world is 14 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) from the sun (which is something like a thousandth of a light year). It takes 1,100 years to complete a single orbit of our star. There are many of these Oort Belt objects (Ferrebeekeeper has talked about Sedna, Eris, and Haumea before), but it always special to find a new member of the solar system. Or maybe not…the news of the world barely seemed to note the little iceball at all. I don’t know whether to be pleased at how mundane such discoveries are becoming, or appalled at how blase and jaded we are. I bet Herschel would still be excited!