Search For Planet X: Dozens Of Large Planetoid Objects Found, Adds Support To Planet Nine Theory
Dozens of large celestial bodies beyond Neptune in perturbed orbits have been discovered, yielding stronger astronomical evidence that the elusive world, Planet X (or Planet Nine, as scientists prefer), exists somewhere in the outer solar system. A new study being presented by the astronomers who first posited the theory that a ninth planet might exist bolsters the pre-existing study with its data and could, with just a few additional findings, push researchers in the direction of Planet X itself.
Space.com reported last week that Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii teamed up again to search the outer system for supporting evidence for their 2014 theory of Planet Nine and were rewarded with the discovery of dozens of objects, the largest of which is 155 miles (250 kilometers) across and whose orbit extends 4,000 astronomical units (AUs — one of which is the spatial distance between the sun and Earth) out into Oort Cloud territory. And like the objects found in their previous study, the newfound objects had the same odd perturbations in their orbits that formed the basis of the theory.
Sheppard admitted in announcing the discovery (per Carnegie Institute for Science’s website) that it wasn’t quite a “slam dunk,” but the multiple discoveries certainly increased the odds that Planet X existed.
“If you want to put a number on it, I’d be somewhere like 80 percent sure that there’s a Planet X out there.”
Although “not 100 percent,” Sheppard told Space.com, “there are a lot of strange things that seem to be going on that would be explained quite well with there being some kind of massive planet out there.”
Sheppard and Trujillo noted in their 2014 study that dwarf planet Sedna, 2012 VP113, and several other distant objects of the outer solar sytem shared certain orbital characteristics. The duo suggested that the reason for these shared characteristics could be the existence of a rather large ninth planet, anywhere from two- to 15-times the mass of Earth (and still smaller than Neptune), orbiting somewhere hundreds of AUs from the sun.
In the recent study, which was accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal, two other bodies, both 125-mile-wide (200 km) objects (designated 2014 SR349 and 2013 FT28), were found in a cluster that also supports the theory of Planet Nine. The two objects move within the one of the key orbital parameters known as the “argument of perihelion.”
Sheppard says that they now have found around 15 of the extreme objects, and all cluster in the argument of perihelion angle. He added that the five most distant of the 15 extreme objects share similarities in a second orbital characteristic known as the longitude of perihelion. More importantly, the five orbit too far from Neptune to be affected by its gravitational pull from Neptune (which cannot be said of the other 10, whose longitudes of perhelion do not line up).
Sheppard is optimistic that just two or three more discoveries like his and Trujillo’s would give Planet Nine more credence.
“I think statistics-wise, in the next year to two years we’ll probably find enough of these small, extreme objects to really say if Planet X exists or not.”
He also noted during the discovery announcement astronomers “are now in a similar situation as in the mid-19th century when Alexis Bouvard noticed Uranus’ orbital motion was peculiar, which eventually led to the discovery of Neptune.”
Earlier this year, astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, both of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, published the results, also in The Astronomical Journal, of computer simulations suggesting that Planet Nine could very well exist (via Cal Tech’s website). Batygin and Brown’s models showed that a the gravitational pull of a 10-Earth-mass planet situated at roughly 600 AU from the sun could explain the seemingly strange “clustering” effect in the orbits of Sedna, 2012 VP113, and other distant objects in the outer solar system.
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