Hundreds of millions of miles beyond the orbit of Neptune lurks one of the most intriguing objects in the Solar System, 50000 Quaoar.
50000 Quaoar is notable for multiple reasons, but the most apparent is its name. Quaoar is the name of the creator deity of the Tongva people in the Los Angeles Basin. The deity Quaoar was believed to have control of a group of “avengers” who spied on humanity and enforced Quaoar’s will. While 50000 Quaoar certainly has an impressive namesake, the 50000 portion is also interesting from an astronomical point of view.
Ordinarily, Solar System objects will be named along with a number denoting how many similar objects had been found before. For instance, 1154 Astronomia was the 1154th minor planet found in the solar system. This chart has all of the minor planets found in order. But for a Solar System object as interesting as Quaoar, scientists decided to break entirely with this tradition to give it a number more fitting to its power; thus we have 50,000 Quaoar.
Another interesting fact concerning Quaoar is that it is a cubewano, and despite the fact that WordPress has underlined it in red on my screen, this strange term cubewano is really an English word. It comes from the provisional name of trans-Neptunian object 15760 Albion, 1992 QB1. 1992 QB1 was left unnamed for over two decades, so whenever another trans-Neptunian object was located it was named after this provisional name (if you say QB1 fast enough it begins to sound like cubewano).
Cubewanos are often very large. The largest of them Makemake is actually a dwarf planet, although this isn’t unique to Makemake. 50000 Quaoar may also be a dwarf planet, and it even has its own 50 km moon, Weywot.
Some scientists have hypothesized that 5000 Quaoar was originally much larger and collided with another trans-Neptunian object, possibly even Pluto. Quaoar has also been chosen as a target for a flyby in the 2030s, so get your tickets soon.