A CAMERA which was created by a Yorkshire university has helped to give its scientists the world’s first ever look at a dwarf planet which was discovered less than a decade ago.
Experts from Sheffield University have developed a device which can capture images from the outer reaches of the solar system.
The ULTRACAM has been used to allow astronomers to study the size, atmosphere and density of the dwarf planet Makemake.
The sophisticated camera takes many pictures a second in three colours and allows scientists to determine how large planets are by measuring how long it takes them to pass in front of a star,
It is attached to two telescopes, one based in Chile and a second in the Canary Islands and is manned by staff from Sheffield and Warwick universities who watched as the dwarf planet blocked the light of distant star Nomad 1181-0235723, for around a minute.
Dr Stuart Littlefair of Sheffield University’s department of physics and astronomy, said: “It’s hard to measure the size of something accurately. Especially so for the tiny dwarf planets which orbit in the outer regions of the solar system. A better way of measuring the size of these objects is to wait for rare events when one passes in front of a faint star.
“By measuring how long this event lasts, we can measure the size directly. If you measure how long this event lasts at different locations on the Earth, you can measure the shape of the object. You can also use these events to detect the presence of an atmosphere on the dwarf planets.
“Crucially, once you know how big the object is, you can work out how reflective it is, and make an educated guess about what the surface is made of.”