back to article Japanese astronomers find tiniest Kuiper Belt object yet – using cheap 'scopes and off-the-shelf CMOS cameras

A plucky group of low-budget astronomers has pulled off quite a coup by spotting the smallest object yet in the Kuiper Belt, the donut of icy objects swirling around in the outer Solar System. Amazingly, the OASES (Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey) team made the find using a pair of small 28cm (11-inch …

  1. jake Silver badge
    Pint

    That's an awfully small chunk ...

    ... an awfully long way away, found by a very few folks, with almost zero money.

    Well done, OASES! This round's on me :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's an awfully small chunk ...

      Two 11" telescopes plus the required hardware (mounts, guide, cameras, etc.) is not exactly something you get with "almost zero money". Depending on which telescopes and hardware they used, you can easily run into several thousands. Sure, still a tiny fraction of bigger projects, but from an amateur point of view, still a not-so-cheap project - unless your pockets are quite deep.

      It's still impressive today thanks to digital imaging and processing you can do good science with "low end" kits, despite the availability of gigantic and orbital telescopes.

      Update: a quick check tells me that the astrographs alone costs over 4K, and the cameras 1.5K each - dont't Japaneses prices, but it's 11K only for the main pieces.

      1. eldakka Silver badge

        Re: That's an awfully small chunk ...

        In comparison to VLTs, Kecks, James Webb's, it's pretty much petty cash levels.

        Keen amateur astronomy-levels.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That's an awfully small chunk ...

        11K doesn't pay for the electricity at a more conventional research facility. In comparison, these folks have spent the loose change from under the car seats.

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Outstanding work!

    It is just great to see what amateurs can contribute to astronomy. Well done to the OASES team

    1. Uffish

      Re: Outstanding work!

      Not amateurs but a research team led by Ko Arimatsu at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. But still, as you say, outstanding work and bloody brilliance to work out that "big science" can sometimes be extrapolated down to "petty cash account science" and still come up with big results.

  3. imanidiot Silver badge
    Pint

    Impressive.

    That's all I can say. Very impressive work.

  4. Che van der Showa
    Pint

    Awesome achievement!

    Next target, a Champagne Supernova?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Awesome achievement!

      Sounds like they're getting in with the oort cloud.

  5. Graham Cunningham
    Joke

    And thanks!

    For the artist's impression of a rock, without which the story would have been impenetrable!

    +1 for the amateurs, though :)

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: And thanks!

      I'm trying to work out what it is that's shedding blue light on the side of the rock away from the sun.

      Must be aliens.

  6. Symon Silver badge
    Alien

    Solar system mass.

    "The Solar System is full of tiny bits of debris leftover from the swirling protoplanetary disk that formed around our young Sun billions of years ago. Only a small proportion of these dusty particles managed to clump together to form planets."

    No, almost all of it has "clumped together".

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System#Structure_and_composition

    "The principal component of the Solar System is the Sun, a G2 main-sequence star that contains 99.86% of the system's known mass and dominates it gravitationally. The Sun's four largest orbiting bodies, the giant planets, account for 99% of the remaining mass, with Jupiter and Saturn together comprising more than 90%. The remaining objects of the Solar System (including the four terrestrial planets, the dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, and comets) together comprise less than 0.002% of the Solar System's total mass."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System#cite_note-footnoteD-28

    "The mass of the Solar System excluding the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn can be determined by adding together all the calculated masses for its largest objects and using rough calculations for the masses of the Oort cloud (estimated at roughly 3 Earth masses),[19] the Kuiper belt (estimated at roughly 0.1 Earth mass)[20] and the asteroid belt (estimated to be 0.0005 Earth mass)[21] for a total, rounded upwards, of ~37 Earth masses, or 8.1% of the mass in orbit around the Sun. With the combined masses of Uranus and Neptune (~31 Earth masses) subtracted, the remaining ~6 Earth masses of material comprise 1.3% of the total orbiting mass."

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Solar system mass.

      the Sun, a G2 main-sequence star that contains 99.86% of the system's known mass

      That always amazes me every time I'm reminded of it. The Sun is f'in big!

      1. caffeine addict Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Solar system mass.

        Especially as it's mostly hydrogen, so it's floating up there.

    2. Not also known as SC
      Trollface

      Re: Solar system mass.

      sigh

      Only a small proportion of these dusty particles managed to clump together to form planets

      The Sun is not a planet.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Solar system mass.

        The Sun is not a planet.

        Careful now. The last time someone declared something was not a planet it triggered an enormous row. Although I think you're probably safe with 'the Sun is not a planet' unless you encounter a particularly belligerent and argumentative astronomer :)

        1. FrancisKing
          Joke

          Re: Solar system mass.

          Indeed. The sun is a main sequence dwarf planet.

          Like Pluto.

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Solar system mass.

      We've tweaked the article. If you spot anything wrong, please email corrections@theregister.co.uk and we'll be able to fix anything immediately.

      C.

  7. Sleep deprived

    the still undiscovered Oort Cloud?

    "We also have our sights set on the still undiscovered Oort Cloud out beyond that," said Arimatsu.

    Does he mean we never observed an object in the Oort Cloud, yet we know it exists?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: the still undiscovered Oort Cloud?

      AFAIK orbital parameters of some comets are an evidence they should come from something alike the Oort Cloud, but I don't think we've ever observed something in a "stable" orbit at those distances. Those bodies should be orbiting very slow, and their angular size will be tiny as well - unless there's something quite big lurking there.

    2. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: the still undiscovered Oort Cloud?

      "Does he mean we never observed an object in the Oort Cloud, yet we know it exists?"

      Pretty much. We know that starbirth is likely to produce a loose 'shell' of gravitational objects within a region beyond the planetary system, and that there is evidence of orbital perturbation on comets that enter the inner system.

      It's rather like the early part of the 20th Century, when astronomers were looking for a 9th planet, which had never been spotted but was obviously there based on its gravitational effects.

    3. M.V. Lipvig

      Re: the still undiscovered Oort Cloud?

      It's there, all right. Stings when you go through it, kinda like riding a motorcycle in sleet.

  8. DropBear Silver badge

    Hmmm...

    Unless someone can point out the groundbreaking new technique that enabled them to make this discovery, I'm inclined to chalk this one up to "bothering to show up in the first place" and then getting ridiculously lucky. Which, admittedly, is still very much respectable and nothing to sneeze at, but far short of the fabulous amount of credit apparently both offered and taken. If they did do something radically differently, by all means, do correct me...

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm...

      From what I read, no "groundbreaking" new technique but a clever use of existing ones to look at many stars in a single image. They got wide-field astrographs able to cover a larger format sensor, then used a focal reducer (often called "speed booster" in the photography) to project that field on a smaller sensor - improving that way the faintest stars level they can analyze. There are also some interesting techniques to "sync" data from the two telescopes. It would be interesting to know how they reduced data, how much processing power was needed and how long it takes.

      Correctly, they hoped in some serendipity from the very beginning, looking at the project name - anyway they got repaid if they got an interesting even with 60 hours of data only.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Hmmm...

        Thanks. This is a bit over my head, but if so they clearly did have a reasonably novel approach. In that case, sure, all the props are deserved, for coming up with something that works better than the old state of the art...

  9. cray74

    Epic find, but...

    ...for their next feat of perception can they find the sock that went missing in my last load of laundry?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Epic find, but...

      Wolfs. It was wolfs what did it.

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "We also have our sights set on the still undiscovered Oort Cloud out beyond that"

    If the method of detection is seeing the dimming of a start as another object passes in front of it how can the distance of the object be determined? I appreciate that a more distant object will result in a smaller dip but so will a smaller, closer object.

    1. Ben1892

      I'm guessing the precise timing ( using meteors - very clever ! ) and separation of the scopes allows triangulation?

      "...In addition, a precise time synchronization method needed for simultaneous occultation detection is developed using faint meteors..."

      https://academic.oup.com/pasj/article/69/4/68/3952364

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge
        Pint

        That is really clever!

        Here's to these boffins, long may they contito boffinate!

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        They don't have much separation as they're on a small island - only a few km across. Their sampling rate is only 15.4 Hz. I suppose, however, they could extend to a bigger baseline having proved the system but a continent sized baseline would need something other than faint meteors to synchronize.

    2. julian abbs

      small? or far away?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMiKyfd6hA0

  11. Rustbucket

    Crowded

    If they can get a result with only 60 hours of observations, it implies there's a absolute shitload of stuff out there.

    1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

      Re: Crowded

      Excellent point, and now they've shown how to do it there will be lots more people finding lots more small KBOs.

  12. The Nazz Silver badge

    On a seperate note, i thought i had discovered laods of 'em this evening.

    It's cold and clear out (hardly fresh news, i know). Cycling along the cycleway i looked up to marvel at the starlit heavens. Followed almost immediately by a massive reduction in luminosity.

    More accurately, a total loss of visibility as my breath froze within my specs.

  13. Tessier-Ashpool

    I might have to put my interstellar travel plans on hold...

    ...with all that debris out there, I wouldn't want to chance bumping into one of those at near light speed.

    1. Spamfast Bronze badge

      Re: I might have to put my interstellar travel plans on hold...

      with all that debris out there, I wouldn't want to chance bumping into one of those

      Head out in the same direction as the sun's spin axis and you should avoid most of the debris.

      You might hit something in the Oort Cloud still though.

      Anyway, the finest astronomers of Earth have prepared this map for you. If you could just fill it in as you go along they'd be ever so grateful ...

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