Pluto is going to be angry when it reads the research out of CalTech. Our solar system could be adding a planet – bringing our small corner of the galaxy back to 9 planets.
Here’s how the Planet Nine breaks down. Its mass is about ten times that of Earth and orbits the sun at twenty times the distance of lonely Neptune. The orbit takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete.
That’s one way to stay forever young.
“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy. “There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It’s a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that’s still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting.”
Researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown discovered the planet’s existence through computer simulations and mathematical modeling. Direct observations haven’t been made, but it’s safe to say telescopes will start sweeping the skies.
Pluto and Planet Nine
Having a mass five thousand times that of Pluto should put down any argument it belongs in the dwarf planet class. The class Pluto now resides in do not gravitationally dominate their region.
Planet Nine? That’s not an issue. In fact, the possible planet dominates its neighborhood in a way the rest of solar system does not. A fact that Brown says makes it “the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system.”
Planet Nine Research
“Although we were initially quite skeptical that this planet could exist, as we continued to investigate its orbit and what it would mean for the outer solar system, we become increasingly convinced that it is out there,” says Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science. “For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete.”
Thank a couple of postdoc students in Brown’s class for starting him down the road to today. The theoretical discovery kicked off in 2014 as Brown thought the students’ published theory of a planet in the Kuiper belt to explain an obscure orbital feature was unlikely.
Joining with Batygin, the two hit the problem from two perspectives. Brown is an observational type while Batygin focuses on theory.
“I would bring in some of these observational aspects; he would come back with arguments from theory, and we would push each other. I don’t think the discovery would have happened without that back and forth,” says Brown. ” It was perhaps the most fun year of working on a problem in the solar system that I’ve ever had.”[divider]Solar System Origins[/divider]
The theory of the solar system is we started with four planetary cores. Each went on to grab the gas in the area forming our system’s four gas planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Brown’s answer?
“But there is no reason that there could not have been five cores, rather than four.”
Planet Nine, if found, would be that fifth. According to the models, if the distant planet got too close to Jupiter or Saturn, it would have been ejected out to its currents orbit in the early days of the solar system.
Finding Planet Nine
For now, it’s all theoretical. The duo’s paper in the current issue of the Astronomical Journal outlines the approximate orbital path. Brown’s hope is that he manages to spot the planet first, but he would be thrilled with whoever finds it.
Want to help? If Planet Nine is at its most distant point, it will take a telescope on par with the twin 10-meter telescopes at WM Keck Observatory or the Subaru Telescope to spot it.
In between? That opens up the range of telescopes that could spot it. There is a chance that Planet Nine could be detected on previous surveys if captured during its perihelion.
Brown and his team are working on refining the rough orbital path they presented into one that can help pinpoint the theoretical planet.
He owes the solar system one. Brown was a leading player in demoting Pluto to dwarf planet status. All we need is a defined orbital path to spot Planet Nine.
No offense to Brown and Batygin, but it’s a big-ass sky.
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