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Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Yellow Magpie


Dwarf Planet Orcus: The God Of The Dead

Dwarf Planet Orcus Photo By NASA

Dwarf planet Orcus is yet another newly discovered member of the Kuiper Belt. We know very little about this frozen body but we think it may hold one or two fascinating secrets.

February 2004 saw the discovery of a new dwarf planet by Chad Trujillo, Michael Brown and David Rabinowitch. Orcus was born.

Physical Characteristics

At an estimated 900 kilometres in width (560 miles), Orcus is a substantial Kuiper Belt body – though it may be smaller. The dwarf planet orbits the Sun at an average distance of just over 39 Astronomical Units(AU). One AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

It takes a very long time for Orcus to complete one trip around our local star – 245 years and two months. The dwarf planet is an indescribably cold place at 44 degrees Kelvin (minus 229 degrees Celsius).

Dwarf Planet Orcus's Orbit In Blue Image By Eurocommuter Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Though more study is required, it is believed that Orcus is composed of frozen water, frozen methane and carbon-rich compounds.

Oceans And Ice Volcanoes?

Dwarf planet Orcus may be home to cryovolcanoes. A composition of frozen water and frozen methane might allow the presence of cryovolcanoes possibly powered by radioactive decay. If radioactive decay is occurring then it is also possible that the dwarf  planet is home to underground oceans.

What’s In A Name?

Orcus was named after the Roman god of the dead who severely punished those who broke their oaths. There was also a secondary reason for choosing this particular name. This was due to the fact that Michael Brown’s wife, as a child, lived on Orcas Island off Washington State, U.S.

Dwarf Planet Orcus And Other Kuiper Belt Objects Photo By Lexicon Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Dwarf Planet Orcus’s Origins

Like many objects in the Kuiper Belt, dwarf planet Orcus was formed from the remnants of an accretion disc that originally surrounded the Sun during the early Solar System.

However, Orcus like many other large objects in the Kuiper Belt failed to coalesce into a big enough body to make the grade as a planet.

Dwarf Planet Orcus’s Moon

Dwarf planet Orcus originally was not thought to possess a large moon. It would be more than a year later before Vanth would be discovered. Given the distance Orcus is from Earth and the close proximity of Vanth it is hard to discern the absolute size of both objects.

It is thought that Vanth may be a captured Kuiper Belt object.

Highly Recommended Reading

Visit Wikipedia for more information on Dwarf Planet Orcus.

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Kuiper Belt: Home To The Dwarf Planets for more insight into this frozen region of the Solar System.

You may also wish to take a gander at The Solar System And Beyond: A Guide To The Cosmos.

Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of the asteroids and writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.
For Germany: Cosmos.
For France: Cosmos.

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