A planet almost as big as Mars could be lurking in the icy reaches of the solar system just beyond Pluto, Newsweek reports.
By scientists’ official count, there are currently eight planets in the solar system. Scientists at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL), however, are convinced there is an unseen mass just hiding within the Kuiper belt, a region in the edge of the solar system filled with hundreds of thousands of icy bodies, including asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets.
A separate team of researchers predicted in January 2016 that a planet as big as Neptune may be lurking beyond Pluto. Based on their calculations, this so-called “Planet Nine” is about 25 times farther from the Sun than Pluto is. But now that scientists are almost convinced there’s another planet beyond Pluto, people have started using the term “Planet 10.”
Researchers at the LPL have determined that Planet 10 is located just within the outer rim of the solar system after studying the orbital tilts of over 600 icy space-rock Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and then discovering that their orbital tilts are slightly different than they would expect. As explained by the University of Arizona in a press release this week, this can only mean that a mysterious mass could be altering the average orbital plane of the outer solar system.
“According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured,” study co-author Kat Volk explained.
The researchers said Planet 10 could be as big as Mars or Earth.
An unseen object with a mass somewhere between that of Earth and Mars could be lurking in the Kuiper Belt https://t.co/SmQopEQE5o— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) June 23, 2017
When asked if it’s possible that the variances in orbital tilts of KBOs could have been caused by the hypothesized Planet 9, the researchers confidently said “no,” explaining that it’s far too distant to do that.
“That is too far away to influence these KBOs,” Volk said. “It certainly has to be much closer than 100 AU to substantially affect the KBOs in that range.”
For now, researchers don’t have the technology to determine for sure if there’s a Planet 10 lurking within the Kuiper Belt. But they’re working on it. As reported by CNET, scientists are optimistic that the highly-advanced Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2020, will help them find these planet-sized objects.
“We expect LSST to bring the number of observed KBOs from currently about 2,000 to 40,000,” said Renu Maholtra, a professor of planetary sciences at LPL and co-author of the study.
[Featured Image by Handout/Getty Images]