As it turns out, there really may be a Planet Nine lurking in our solar system, just waiting to be found, and now new research has provided compelling evidence that this planet could very well exist. In fact, it may be even closer to Earth than we thought.
As Live Science reported, two new studies have suggested that this ninth planet could be up to five to 10 times the size of Earth and most likely makes its way along an elongated orbit that may be between 15 to 25 degrees away from the orbital plane where the majority of planets are usually found to orbit, making Planet Nine more elusive than ever.
Planet Nine’s existence was first put forward in 2014, when Caltech astronomers suggested that a ninth planet may be hiding in our solar system after observing objects in the Kuiper Belt. Because these objects appear to be jumbled together, this would suggest that there may be something very large exerting its gravity upon them, although, to date, nothing has been found.
The same astronomers from Caltech who proposed that there may be a ninth planet out there have returned with fresh new papers which further support the notion that this mysterious planet may be influencing the patterns of objects within the Kuiper Belt.
According to Digital Trends, Mike Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and author of the new studies, believes that while new research doesn’t prove whether Planet Nine is really out there, what it does show is that the hypothesis for this planet is stronger than ever.
“Though this analysis does not say anything directly about whether Planet Nine is there, it does indicate that the hypothesis rests upon a solid foundation.”
With Planet Nine now thought to be so large that it would qualify as a super-Earth, scientists now also believe that this planet may be much closer to our own planet than originally estimated.
Co-author Konstantin Batygin has suggested that if this planet is eventually discovered and observed, that studying it may help scientists to learn more about these extrasolar planets.
“At five Earth masses, Planet Nine is likely to be very reminiscent of a typical extrasolar super-Earth. It is the solar system’s missing link of planet formation. Over the last decade, surveys of extrasolar planets have revealed that similar-sized planets are very common around other sun-like stars. Planet Nine is going to be the closest thing we will find to a window into the properties of a typical planet of our galaxy,” Batygin said.
However, if there doesn’t turn out to be a ninth planet after all, the only other explanation for the strange movement of objects within the Kuiper Belt is simply that scientists still don’t fully understand the clustering action of these objects, and that this clustering may come from “self-gravity” rather than from gravity exerted by a nearby planet.
The new research which suggests that Planet Nine may be very close to Earth, while also being five to 10 times the size of our planet, has been published in The Astronomical Journal.