· · · ·


174567 Varda, 2003 MW12

Potential Dwarf Planet of the Solar System

A dwarf planet candidate that orbits the outer Solar System accompanied by its moon, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. Varda is unusual in that, rather than being named after a being from a historical pantheon, it takes its name from a fictional character from the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien. In The Silmarillion, Varda was called the Kindler, the powerful being who made the bright stars by painting the dews of Laurelin, the shining silver tree, against the dome of the heavens.

Varda in the Solar System

Varda follows a somewhat eccentric orbit that can bring it as close to the Sun as 39 AU, or as far out as 52 AU (for comparison, Neptune orbits at a distance of some 30 AU from the Sun). This orbit places Varda among the bodies known as cubewanos, planetoids pursuing paths through the busy transneptunian region known as the Kuiper Belt.

At present Varda is on the inward leg of its 311-year passage around the Solar System, moving slowly towards the closest point in its orbit to the Sun. It will not reach this perihelion point until the last years of the twenty-first century, probably in 2096.

Physical Characteristics and Moon

With a diameter of just over 700km, Varda is comparatively small for a dwarf planet (its diameter is only about 30% that of Pluto, for example). By comparison with most of the inner asteroids, however, this is still a significant size - it approaches the diameter of Ceres, the largest body in the Asteroid Belt. Varda takes just under six hours to rotate on its axis.

Varda does not follow its path through the Kuiper Belt alone: it has a satellite body, Ilmarë, about half the diameter of Varda itself. Like Varda, Ilmarë also takes its name Tolkien's tales: in his stories, Ilmarë was an angelic being who served as handmaiden to Varda the Queen of the Stars.


Related Entries