Two asteroids out beyond Neptune and moving in nearly identical orbits may have been part of a binary system at one time, their little system disrupted by some large object that scientists say could have been Planet 9.
The Daily Mail reported this week that a new study suggests that there is reason to believe Planet 9 actually does exist and that the proposed massive planet supposedly orbiting in the outer Solar System could be the cause of the current orbital patterns of two distant asteroids. Researchers led by the Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and Complutense University of Madrid concluded that millions of years ago, asteroids 2004 VN112 and 2013 RF98 might have been locked in a binary pairing before the near passage of the aforementioned (much) more massive object pulled them apart (the Mail described the event as a “smash and grab”) and set them on their present courses.
Asteroids 2004 VN112 and 2013 RF98 now have been added to a growing list of ETNOs, or “extreme trans Neptunian objects,” of which there are 21. The orbital paths of these asteroids seem to be better explained if one or more planets several times more massive than Earth are orbiting the Sun out near the edge of the Solar System — like the hypothetical Planet 9.
Researchers used the OSIRIS spectrograph on the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands (Spain) to measure the two asteroids’ magnitudes (their brightness as seen from Earth) and also recalculated the orbit of asteroid 2013 RF98. The investigation concluded that the orbital paths of the two were almost identical, the poles of the objects separated by just a small angle.
The researchers then turned to analyzing the visible spectrum to determine the composition of 2004 VN112 and 2013 RF98. This included, according to the Daily Mail, whether the objects “have pure ice on the surface, highly processed carbon compounds, or even the possible presence of amorphous silicates as in the Trojan asteroids associated with Jupiter.”
It was revealed that the two asteroids’ compositions were indeed similar to those of two other ETNOs: 2000 CR105 and 2012 VP113. With the connection in mind, the group was employed to test the hypothesis of the existence of Planet 9. The researchers believe they may have a common origin and an object such as Planet 9 may have altered the asteroids original orbital movements.
Thousands of simulations were performed to determine how their orbital poles would separate over time. It was revealed that a possible planet having a mass between 10 and 20 Earth masses and orbiting the Sun at a distance of 300-600 AU (astronomical unit, or the distance between the Sun and the Earth) could have been the causative factor that produced the break-up of the asteroid duo approximately five to 10 million years ago.
Julia de Leon, the lead author of the study, said of the composition aspect of the work: “The similar spectral gradients observed for the pair 2004 VN112-2013 RF98 suggests a common physical origin. We are proposing the possibility that they were previously a binary asteroid which became unbound during an encounter with a more massive object.”
As reported by the Inquisitr, Planet 9 was first proposed as an actual member of the Solar System in 2014 when Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii published a study wherein they found certain similarities in the oddities of the orbits of dozens of objects out beyond the orbital path of Neptune. They suggested this collective oddity could be caused by a massive planet that might circle the Sun as far out as Oort Cloud territory at the edge of the Solar System.
But even if Planet 9 is eventually found, it just might be Planet 10 instead. According to Popular Science, a new definition of what constitutes a planet — based on data gathered from the New Horizons space probe — is in the works by some NASA scientists that might make Pluto a planet once again. Pluto was down-graded to the status of a dwarf planet in 2008.
[Featured Image by Adisorn Chaisan/Shutterstock]