A possible ninth planet in the solar system has caught the attention of researchers and scientists.
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have gathered evidence that a planet about 10 times the mass of Earth and approximately four times its size moves in a faraway orbit beyond Neptune.
Nicknamed Planet Nine, it orbits “20 times farther from the sun” and has an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. The new planet moves in an extremely elongated orbit that would take 10,000 to 20,000 years to move around the sun, according to CalTech.
— Nerdist (@nerdist) January 20, 2016
CalTech researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown admitted that they have not seen the planet yet, but other research studies helped them to conclude that there really is a ninth planet. They learned that certain objects in the Kuiper belt form a unique arrangement when they come close to the sun. The Kuiper belt is the cold region beyond the orbit of Neptune, which is believed to contain debris and other icy objects in the solar system.
Mathematical modeling and computer simulation have helped them conclude that a ninth planet was exerting gravity that helps shape these orbits.
CalTech researchers found that six of the 13 Kuiper belt objects moved on orbits headed in the same direction.
The potential new planet in our solar system orbits far beyond Pluto: https://t.co/dNDN0ViwLg pic.twitter.com/bEVmJXdMKu
— Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) January 20, 2016
“If you looked down on the solar system and had the sun in the center, all of these objects would head out to the 9 o’clock position,” Brown said. He also noticed that their orbits were all slanted at the same angle to the other eight known planets in the solar system.
Scientists and researchers have previously proposed that there could be a missing ninth planet in the solar system, with some believing that a strong collision caused it to be pushed out of the system approximately 4 billion years ago. Some speculate that the collision may have involved the massive planet Jupiter.
After several thorough investigations, Batygin was convinced that the huge ninth planet exists past the orbit of Neptune: “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.”
Listen to What Two Caltech Scientists Have to Say About the Ninth Planet
“There is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete,” Batygin said in a statement.
According to Brown, “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.”
Batygin and Brown elaborated their findings on The Astronomical Journal on Wednesday.
Brown, whose username on Twitter is @plutokiller, has helped many scientists reshape the way people see the solar system. He played a major role in reclassifying Pluto as a dwarf planet.
Brown confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that the suspected ninth planet has a mass 5,000 times that of Pluto’s. He added that this discovery is good news for people who still could not move on with Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet.
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) July 14, 2015
“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,” Brown said.
Scientists reportedly said they will have to observe Planet Nine’s behavior with a telescope within five years.
They may have not seen the ninth planet up close yet, but Brown would definitely be glad if someone else found it. “That is why we’re publishing this paper. We hope that other people are going to get inspired and start searching.”
[Image via Caltech]