Two astronomers from Spain have announced that their research has uncovered evidence that corroborates the hypothesis of a potential massive Planet Nine orbiting in the outer Solar System. Using an analysis of the nodes, the two points where a celestial body crosses the plane of said Solar System, the astronomers found that the data supported "signs of the presence of a planet" affecting the orbits of those bodies.
"If there is nothing to perturb them, the nodes of these extreme trans-Neptunian [ETNOs] objects should be uniformly distributed, as there is nothing for them to avoid, but if there are one or more perturbers, two situations may arise," Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, one of the authors of the research, explained (per Phys.org) to Spain's public science news agency SINC (Information and Scientific News Service). "One possibility is that the ETNOs are stable, and in this case, they would tend to have their nodes away from the path of possible perturbers. But if they are unstable, they would behave as the comets that interact with Jupiter do, tending to have one of the nodes close to the orbit of the hypothetical perturber."
The Spanish astronomers, who conducted research at Complutense University of Madrid, used calculations and data mining to determine the nodes (the points where a particular celestial object intersected the plane of the Solar System) of the 28 ETNOs and 24 extreme Centaurs (hybrid planetesimals located between Jupiter and Neptune with characteristics of planets, comets, and asteroids) are arranged in clusters at certain distances from the Sun. The research also found a correlation between the positions of the nodes and the inclination, a parameter, among others, which helps define the orientation of the orbits of these distant objects. According to the authors, such a correlation should not exist.
"Assuming that the ETNOs are dynamically similar to the comets that interact with Jupiter, we interpret these results as signs of the presence of a planet that is actively interacting with them in a range of distances from 300 to 400 AU."De la Fuente Marcos continued: "We believe that what we are seeing here cannot be attributed to the presence of observational bias."
The new research is important in that it supports the original hypothesis proposed in early 2016 by Caltech astronomers whose work suggested that evidence existed that an enormous object, located at an average distance of 700 AU (Astronomical Units -- the distance from the Sun to the Earth). The perturbations in the orbits of several small bodies (the aforementioned ETNOs) in the outer Solar System led them to hypothesize that something -- say, a planet roughly 10 times the mass of Earth -- was causing the orbits to be perturbed, and thus they proposed that a distant Planet Nine might be that cause.
Further research on the ETNOs by the Canadian-French-Hawaiian project OSSOS found biases in their own observations of the objects' orbits. OSSOS suggested that other observations, including the original observations of the Caltech group, may have experienced like issues while researching the distant objects. These scientists suggested that a massive perturber did not necessarily explain the observations, and the orbits could be explained simply by their random distribution.
Still, the Spanish astronomers are not alone in finding supportive evidence for Planet Nine (or Planet X, which it is sometimes referred). As the Inquisitr has reported, researchers from Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and Complutense University of Madrid in February revealed, after conducting computer simulations, that a particular pair of asteroids could have been locked in a binary pairing before the near passage of a massive object like Planet Nine pulled them apart, sending them on their present courses.
And the number of ETNOs continues to grow as well, providing more support for the hypothesis of a Planet Nine. As noted, there are now 28 known ETNOs in the Solar System. In February, there were 21.
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