In a paper published in The Astronomical Journal, Dr. Mike Brown and Dr. Konstantin Batygin, Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology, reported that they have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a freakish orbit in the outer solar system.
The researchers have nicknamed the object as Planet Nine. It has a mass about 10 times that of 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). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun.
Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy, said the following.
“This would be a real ninth planet. 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.”
Mike Brown, discovered a Pluto-size object in January 2005, now known as Eris, in the ring of icy debris beyond Neptune known as the Kuiper belt, reports The New York Times. He also introduced the world to Sedna, a first-of-its-kind dwarf planet that’s so far out there, its region of space was long thought to be an empty no man’s land. He said the following.
“My daughter, she’s still kind of mad about Pluto being demoted, even though she was barely born at that time. She suggested a few years ago that she’d forgive me if I found a new planet. So I guess I’ve been working on this for her.”
Now Brown has teamed up with Caltech colleague Konstantin Batygin to do a new analysis of oddities in the orbits of small, icy bodies out beyond Neptune. An assistant professor of planetary science, Batygin says the following.
“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,” “For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete.”
The initial evidence that something big might be affecting the orbits of distant bodies came in 2014. An international team of astronomers announced that they’d discovered a new dwarf planet, nicknamed Biden, that stays even farther out than Sedna. They also noted a strange clustering in the orbits of these objects, and in the orbits of about a dozen others. They hypothesized that the gravity of some unseen planet was acting as a shepherd.
— Alexandra Witze (@alexwitze) January 20, 2016
The evidence for Planet Nine is indirect and is based on alignments of known Kuiper Belt objects that are very difficult to explain through simple chance occurrence. In essence, the presence of the new planet is inferred through the gravitational sculpting that it has produced in the trajectories of small objects that lie beyond Neptune’s orbit.
The current distance to Planet Nine is likely about a thousand times the Earth-Sun distance, and so if it exists, it is quite faint, explaining why it has thus far gone unnoticed. Its detection would be possible with a systematic search using large telescopes such as the Keck Observatory.
Mike Brown wrote on his blog.
“In 2006, when the International Astronomical Union codified what we mean when we say the word ‘planet,’ I was quoted multiple times saying something like, ‘That’s it. That’s the end of planets. We get eight in this solar system and that will have to be enough. Since 1845 there have been no new ones to discover. I was wrong.'”
The ninth planet has sure excited the people around the globe about the solar system they were so familiar about, and its changing face.
[Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images]