The presence of a ninth planet in our solar system situated past Neptune has been suggested by researchers. Commonly being called “Planet Nine”, it is described as being enormous and icy. The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The ‘discovery’ has been made by the astronomer who was behind the ‘demotion’ of Pluto (Mike Brown from Caltech, the California Institute of Technology) to dwarf planet more than 10 years ago in 2005. The huge, icy Planet Nine has not been seen yet – its discovery remains, therefore, unconfirmed.
The data pertaining to its potential existence was found when a “strange signal” was noticed by Brown and his team who then interpreted it as being a sign of something weird occurring in the outer part of the Solar System. Explaining their findings in a statement to The Guardian, the astronomer says that they have found the occurrence of rocky objects aligning in an unusual fashion in the Kuiper belt beyond the edge of our Solar System; according to Brown, the objects should not normally be lined in that particular manner.
They found that the orbits of six such heavenly bodies known as Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) were all pointing towards the same direction, inclined at the particular angle known to characterise the other planets of the Solar System; it is to be noted that these orbits should otherwise have been in differing directions, as says Brown.
“It’s almost like having six hands on a clock all moving at different rates, and when you happen to look up, they’re all in exactly the same place.”
They, therefore, concluded that another object must be moulding the said orbits. That was how they came upon the realisation that it might actually be a hidden planet.
The team of researchers says that the planet has not been noticed before because of the great distance separating it from us. The preliminary indicative evidence positions it at a super large orbit taking between 10,000 to 20,000 years to revolve around our Sun; apparently, it is about 149 billion km away from the latter. That makes of it even more far away than Pluto is to our Sun – 75 times more distant.
As for its size, Planet Nine would be around 4 times bigger than our Earth in size, and 10 times more massive, as per initial estimations.
We might one day view Planet Nine. According to the team, it is big enough to be captured by our biggest telescopes. However, until it is actually viewed, its existence will be considered but a theory. Other scientists not involved in the study are sceptical while yet others are somewhat open to the idea. For instance, astrophysicist Chris Lintott from the University of Oxford says that an additional planet has been proposed many times before, and that the new study constituted the “most convincing analysis”. Brown is conscious of both sides of the coin, and hopes that by publishing his results, others will be inspired to look for the planet, or at least, that a better explanation will be concocted.