Scientists Think They Might Have Discovered Evidence Of A Ninth Planet
According to research published on Wednesday, a formerly unknown giant planet may have been discovered hiding in the outer reaches of our solar system.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found evidence that indicates the presence of a ninth planet in our solar system that is about 10 times bigger than Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles).
Nicknamed Planet Nine, the object is 2 to 4 times the size of Earth’s diameter. It’s so large that it would be the fifth-largest planet in our solar system. What makes this planet so unique is that it has a highly elongated orbit that “faces” a different direction than every other planet in our solar system.
“In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the Sun.”
The report was published in the Astronomical Journal.
Researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown haven’t actually seen the planet, but rather they found it through mathematical modeling and computer simulations.
Brown says “there have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It’s a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that’s still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting.”
“Although we were initially quite skeptical that this planet could exist, as we continued to investigate its orbit and what it would mean for the outer solar system, we become increasingly convinced that it is out there,” says Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science. “For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete.”
The presumed planet has about 5,000 times the mass of Pluto, and scientists believe its gravity has affected the motion of dwarf planets in the outer solar system, essentially disturbing celestial bodies in the field of icy objects and debris beyond Neptune known as the Kuiper Belt.
“Like a parent maintaining the arc of a child on a swing with periodic pushes, Planet Nine nudges the orbits of distant Kuiper Belt objects such that their configuration with relation to the planet is preserved,” explained CalTech in a statement.
Brown, one of the co-authors on the paper, is the famed “Pluto Killer” who provided evidence that led to the demotion of Pluto as a planet in 2006.
He and colleagues had found a dwarf planet called Eris that was more massive than Pluto, and a potential candidate for a 10th planet.
But when the International Astronomical Union decided in 2006, to issue a new definition of “planet,” neither Eris nor Pluto made the cut.
Brown says “all those people who are mad that Pluto is no longer a planet can be thrilled to know that there is a real planet out there still to be found. Now we can go and find this planet and make the solar system have nine planets once again.”
“OK, OK, I am now willing to admit,” said Brown, who goes by @plutokiller on Twitter.
“I DO believe that the solar system has nine planets.”
But how could astronomers go so long without realizing another planet was out there?
Brown and colleagues say Planet Nine could have been cast off during the early formation of the solar system, when four major cores grabbed up the gas around them and formed Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Perhaps Planet Nine represented a fifth core, that may have gotten too close to Jupiter or Saturn and been ejected into its current, distant orbit, said Brown.