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Mar 27, 2014 11:36 AM EDT

Joe Biden Was Inspiration for New Dwarf Planet 2012 VP 113, But the Name Probably Won't Stick


It did not take very long after news of a new dwarf planet's discovery broke for people to realize it had been named after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

According to Nature, study co-authors Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo even gave 2012 VP 113 the unofficial shorthand name "Biden." The newly discovered dwarf planet orbits the sun way beyond Pluto and is similar to another of its kind.

The discovery also has made Sheppard and Trujillo believe many more like Biden and Sedna, another icy dwarf planet, exist.

"It goes to show that there's something we don't know about our Solar System, and it's something important," Trujillo, an astronomer at Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, told Nature. "We're starting to get a taste of what's out beyond what we consider the edge."

Michael Brown, a planetary astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said Biden's discovery proves that Sedna was not a fluke sighting.

"This is a great discovery," he told Nature. "We've been searching for more objects like Sedna for more than 10 years now."

The researchers found the new dwarf planet in the inner Oort cloud, which exists far beyond the outer edge of the solar system.

"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," Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, said in a press release. "Some of these inner Oort cloud objects could rival the size of Mars or even Earth. This is because many of the inner Oort cloud objects are so distant that even very large ones would be too faint to detect with current technology."

Biden will not keep its name, unfortunately, and the scientists will submit a more formal name with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) once its orbit has been precisely pegged. The White House did not comment publicly on the matter.

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