The existence of Planet Nine, an ice giant 10 times larger than Earth and 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune, has long been on astronomers’ minds. And scientists are leaving no stone unturned in order to find it.
While some scour the skies with powerful telescopes in hopes of spotting the elusive super-Earth in the outer solar system beyond the Kuiper Belt, others turn to medieval records to uncover their hidden secrets, LiveScience reports.
To this effect, an astronomer with an interest for the humanities and a medievalist with a passion for astronomy have come together in a unique scientific venture aimed to explore how the cosmos was understood in the Middle Ages.
The medievalist is Dr. Marilina Cesario; the astronomer is Dr. Pedro Lacerda. Both are researchers at the Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and are committed to finding out whether the mysterious Planet Nine was mentioned in any type of historical record, written or otherwise.
The duo plans to go over a bounty of Anglo-Saxon documents and artistic depictions of comet passages and other interesting astronomical phenomena that captured people’s attention during the Dark Ages.
“We have a wealth of historical records of comets in Old English, Old Irish, Latin and Russian which have been overlooked for a long time,” Cesario said in a statement, noting that medieval people were every bit as fascinated by cosmology as we are today.
Cesario and Lacerda’s goal is to investigate how the Anglo-Saxons recorded what went on in the sky and combine their depictions with modern astronomy to reveal any potential clues about Planet Nine’s whereabouts.
According to Lacerda, medieval records can become a very useful tool for astronomers. By running computer simulations of all the orbits of currently known comets and tracking down the exact moments the comets would be visible in the skies during the Middle Ages, the records might reveal important indications about Planet Nine.
“In simple terms, we can use the medieval comet sightings to check which computer simulations work best: the ones that include Planet Nine or the ones that do not,” he told LiveScience.
But wait, there’s more. To get people acquainted with their work, Cesario and Lacerda have launched an interactive exhibition entitled Marvelling at the skies: comets through the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, which will run at the Ulster Museum in Belfast until June 3.
A creative mash-up of science and art, the exhibition aims to take visitors on a cosmic journey that spans more than a thousand years, starting with the earliest contemporary description of a comet in England in the year 891 and ending with the 2013 sighting of the Lovejoy comet. The exhibition also includes the famous Bayeux Tapestry depicting the 1066 appearance of Halley’s Comet, notes LiveScience.
The event is part of a larger cross-disciplinary research project called “Before and after Halley: Medieval Visions of Modern Science,” Space Daily reports.
“This research project renegotiates the meaning and importance of medieval science and demonstrates how medieval records of comets can help test the theory of the existence of the elusive Planet Nine,” Cesario pointed out.