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Beyond the Kuiper belt: Possible Ninth Planet May Exist

Beyond the Kuiper belt: Possible Ninth Planet May Exist
Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Avert your eyes from your textbooks, children. There may be another planet in our solar system and this time it might actually fit NASA’s requirement for “planet status.” 

Two astronomers from Caltech have compiled strong evidence of the planet’s orbit. A professor of planetary astronomy, Michael Brown, and colleague Konstantin Batygin were skeptical at first but after observing unusual orbits in the scattered disc region of the Kuiper belt, a field of icy debris beyond Neptune, simulations and calculations suggest that these unusual orbits are being influenced by something big, likely a planet. The pair initially set out to disprove the hypothesized planet’s existence and were surprised by what they discovered.

Planet 9
Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

The proposed planet is nicknamed “Planet 9,” It is believed to have five to ten times the mass of Earth. It is also said to have 5,000 times the mass of Pluto and its orbit is estimated to take 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years to revolve around the sun.

Recent evidence also suggests that this theoretical massive object could be altering the Solar System’s natural orbit. It may be the cause of the clustering of objects and how they orbit around the sun. The object may also be causing our Solar system to “wobble.”

Telescopes on two continents are searching for the object. It’s distance is thought to be 20 times further than Neptune, which is currently the farthest planet in the solar system. It is believed it would be comparable in size to the gas giant planets. With an estimated diameter being 2 to 4 times greater than earth. Despite its size, it will still be difficult to locate at such a distance.

Researchers are still very excited about the prospect of another planet. Though Nasa’s director of planetary science cautions that there could be other explanations to the unusual orbits and wobble to the solar system. He quoted Carl Sagan in his caution by stating “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Brown speculates that the planet would be an ice giant, similar in composition to Neptune and Uranus. “An object four times bigger than Earth that’s located at 1,000 AU (astronomical unit) would have a magnitude of about +25 on astronomers’ brightness scale

At an annual meeting in Pasadena, Brown spoke to the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society. Brown said.

“We have so many different lines of evidence that there’s a massive planet out there that if there’s not a massive planet out there, then it has to be that there was one there yesterday that has disappeared. It is really very hard for me to think of how the solar system could be doing all the things it’s doing out there without there being a massive planet.

“There are a lot of people looking, and we are trying as hard as we can to tell people where to look,” Brown said. “We want it to be found.”

NASA believes there’s not enough evidence just yet. Still, the hypothesis is exciting for stargazers of all ages. Astronomers, keep looking up and working hard. Make it so.

Updated: November 2, 2016.