A huge planet ten times larger than Earth may be orbiting the sun at the edge of our solar system.
Researchers have discovered a dwarf planet called 2012 VP113, along with up to 900 other objects, are orbiting in a similar formation.
This suggests that a larger planet, dubbed a Super Earth because of its size, may be creating a shepherding effect pulling these objects around with it.
2012 VP113 was first observed in November 2012 and announced earlier today. It is the most distant dwarf planet to be found orbiting our sun.
It is approximately 280 miles wide (450km) and orbits beyond the comet-rich Kuiper Belt in a region at the very edge of the system called the Oort cloud.
2012 VP113 is around half the diameter of dwarf planet Sedna, discovered a decade ago, and lies 80 times further from the sun than the Earth.
The similarity in the orbits for Sedna and 2012 VP113 points to an as yet undiscovered ‘Super Earth’.
The two dwarf planets are among of thousands of objects believed to form the inner Oort cloud and were found to have a similar orbit, suggesting the presence of a planet up to 10 times the size of Earth.
Dr Linda Elkins-Tanton, of the Carnegie Institution in the United States, said: ‘This is an extraordinary result that redefines our understanding of our Solar System.’
The observable solar system is divided into three distinct regions including the rocky terrestrial planets such as Earth, the gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter, and the icy Kuiper Belt objects – beyond which lies the Oort cloud.
Dr Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution, said: ‘The search for these distant inner Oort cloud objects beyond Sedna and 2012 VP113 should continue as they could tell us a lot about how our solar system formed and evolved.’
The researchers used a Dark Energy Camera (DECam) in the Chilean Andes to discover 2012 VP113. They then used the nearby Magellan telescope to determine its orbit and obtain detailed information about its surface.
From the sky, researchers were able to use DECam to calculate about 900 objects with orbits similar to Sedna and 2012 VP113.
‘Some of these inner Oort cloud objects could rival the size of Mars or even Earth,’ said Dr Sheppard.
‘This is because many of the inner Oort cloud objects are so distant even very large ones would be too faint to detect with current technology,’ continued Dr Sheppard.
Both Sedna and 2012 VP113 were found near their closest approach to the Sun but they both have orbits at which point they would be too faint to spot.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.