How many planets are there in the Solar System? You would probably say eight, neglecting Pluto(Sorry). They are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. But look’s like scientists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown from Caltech have stumbled upon evidence that suggests there might be indeed a planet beyond Pluto, well near the Kupier Belt.
The planet nicknamed for now as Planet Nine (duhh!!), is predicted to be at least ten times as large as the Earth (~ size of Neptune or Uranus; no pun intended), lies at a distance of 60 billion miles from the Sun which is almost 20 times more than the distance between Neptune and the Sun. One year on the planet would be as long as 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years (Talk about birthdays!). The planet’s existence is based on predictions including modeling through observations and mathematical calculations (Just like in the case of Neptune). The Caltech scientists wrote a paper in the Astronomical Journal explaining the evidence that suggests the existence of Planet 9.
Though the planet hasn’t been observed yet, and is so far from the Sun it would be really dim and hard to notice, NASA is certain that the existing telescopes like Keck Telescope and Subaru Telescope can observe it. The observations that lead to this predictions were the relative clustering of Kupier Belt Objects (KBOs) and their orbits in a particular direction which indicated that they were under the influence of gravitational force from a Neptune sized object. This prediction explains the orbits of at least 5 such KBOs. Though there is still research going on to explain these orbits, none has been successful to fully explain them, but this prediction surely goes close. Also, the existence of a planet explains the 60° to 150° tilts of the semi major axis of the orbits of other Kupier Belt Objects like Sedna and another discovered in 2012 called 2012VP113. The above clustering and unusual shape of orbits of the dwarf planets, icy rocks, and other objects of the Kupier Belt has a probability of happening by chance of 0.007% which shows that there is a dynamical cause behind it, and these previously unexplained behaviour can eb explained if there is indeed a ‘Planet Nine’.
“If Planet X is out there, we’ll find it together. Or we’ll determine an alternate explanation for the data that we’ve received so far.
-Jim Green, director Planetary Science Division-NASA
This is though not a sure fact, or a discovery of the new fact but indeed a clue pointing towards its possible existence. If there is indeed a planet previously unknown in our Solar System, we will soon find it. Brown and Betyagin hope there paper encourages other scientists to focus and help them find the planet. Brown says that it doesn’t matter if he is not the one to find it, what is important that science advances as a whole, and the mystery of the Kupier Belt is solved to some extent and that is why he and his co-writer made the paper publicly available. As for the name goes, the so obvious ‘Planet Nine’ will be replaced by a new name assigned by the International Astronomical Union, which would most likely be named after a mythological Roman God. The methods of science are very planned and logical, and we should not jump to conclusions without checking out for other possibilities, as Jim Green director of NASA’s Planetary Science division quoted Carl Sagan,”Anytime we have an interesting idea like this, we always apply Carl Sagan’s rules for critical thinking, which include independent confirmation of the facts, looking for alternate explanations, and encouraging scientific debate.” Happy Reading!
“I would love to find it, but I’d also be perfectly happy if someone else found it. That is why we’re publishing this paper. We hope that other people are going to get inspired and start searching.”
-Mike Brown, Caltech
-The Cosmogasmic Person
Images adopted from http://www.nasa.gov