NASA-funded astronomers at the California Institute of Technology have discovered the furthest-known body in the solar system - a distant eight billion miles out.
It orbits the sun on a highly elliptical path which, even at its perihelion, puts the planetoid more than twice the average distance from the Sun to Pluto.
The body is somewhere between 800 and 1,100 miles across, making it the largest object discovered in the solar system since Pluto was first identified in 1930. The Associated Press reports that the rocky body has been named Sedna "after the Inuit Goddess who created the sea creatures".
Its orbit takes 10,500 years to complete, and takes it as far as 84 billion miles away from the sun. The research team says it is unlikely that the temparature on Sedna ever rises above 33 degrees Kelvin, or -240 degrees Celcius.
Sedna was first sighted in November 2003. Mike Brown (CalTech) and Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, spotted the worldlette through the 48-inch telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory.
NASA has scheduled a press briefing today where it will release more information about the discovery. To add to the excitement, AP reports that the team suspects a tiny moon may orbit the planet. ®