Scientists recently revealed that a massive asteroid floating around our solar system could be labeled as an actual planet. 

According to a report, what was previously known as the asteroid Hygiea could be another celestial body altogether. Hygeia is considered the fourth largest object in the solar system’s asteroid belt and can be found somewhere between Mars and Jupiter and just behind the asteroids Vesta, Pallas and the dwarf planet Ceres. 

But now new studies headed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) are surmising that Hygiea might actually be a dwarf planet as well. If true, then it will be the smallest in our solar system, measuring at merely 430 km in diameter. By comparison, Ceres is approximately 950 km in diameter while Pluto measures 1,200 km.

Now the sudden change is because Hygeia actually fits several of the requirements for a celestial object to be considered a dwarf planet. First, the object needs enough gravitational pull which could form itself into a sphere. Next, it needs to orbit the Sun and that it is not a moon that revolves around a planet and lastly, it doesn’t really need a clear path to revolve the way other planets do. 

The new information was gathered by using the Very Large Telescope (VLT), ESO’s powerful tool used to search for planets in the solar system and the SPHERE instrument, which measures the brightness of a celestial object. 

“Thanks to the unique capability of the SPHERE instrument on the VLT, which is one of the most powerful imaging systems in the world, we could resolve Hygiea’s shape, which turns out to be nearly spherical. Thanks to these images, Hygiea may be reclassified as a dwarf planet, so far the smallest in the Solar System,” Lead researcher Pierre Vernazza from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France, said. 

“Thanks to the VLT and the new generation adaptive-optics instrument SPHERE, we are now imaging main-belt asteroids with unprecedented resolution, closing the gap between Earth-based and interplanetary mission observations.”

The discovery will play a very significant role in space studies and it showcases that the scientific community is now well-equipped with instruments like the SPHERE and VLT to make more groundbreaking discoveries in the future. 

Two Very Different Asteroids Image of two different asteroids captured by NASA. Photo: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL