Oct 17 2018

New Body Discovered in Orbit Around Kerbol – Introducing Sorlon!

Initial calculation for the orbit of Sorlon, with Urlum as the outermost orbit

In a press conference earlier today the Kerbal Astronomical Society formally announced the discovery of a new celestial object in orbit around Kerbol. The new object appears to be a large asteroid, although astronomers are still not entirely sure because the object has only just now been re-discovered after a search of several months over the course of this year. The first discovery was made early in 2017 by routine sky survey of the Asteroid Tracking Network during its scheduled use of the telescope located at Ockr. The block of data that included that observation was unfortunately mis-handled and ended up being overlooked during post-analysis. It languished in the archives for just over a year until Gipi Kerman, a young graduate student at the Kravass Astronomical University, stumbled across the data as she was completing a research project.

Once a handful of tight-lipped astronomers in the university saw the data, they immediately launched a search with the Kerman Observatory located at Kravass, the largest space telescope currently in use. Unfortunately, the original data set only captured a very small portion of the object’s movement through the night sky, and extrapolating an orbit from the observations proved exceedingly difficult. Best-guesses still produced a large swath of possible areas in space the search team would have to cover, bit by bit, in-between time already scheduled for current research projects and, ironically, searching for additional asteroids as part of the ATN’s daily sweep.

Finally, after months of searching, 3 days ago the team found what they were looking for. The object was originally discovered near perikelion, or during its closest approach to the sun, but has since moved out well beyond the orbit of Sarnus and is approaching apkelion – making it very faint. Given its apparent brightness, the object is definitely larger than the Class-E range of low hundreds of meters. It could possibly be larger than a kilometer in size. Once the orbit is better understood the apparent brightness can be better used to estimate its size (is it faint because it is small or is it faint because it doesn’t reflect much light?). In addition to being highly eccentric in its orbit, the object is also tilted by around 30° to the ecliptic. This brings into question the object’s makeup, whether it may be a dusty comet rather than a rocky asteroid.

Astronomers will be spending the next few weeks making more detailed observations of the object to nail down all the orbital details and physical characteristics they can. Credited with the initial discovery, Gipi was given the privilege of naming it. She chose to mash together some ancient Kerbskrit to form the word Sorlon, which roughly translates to “then unseen”.