The existence of the elusive Planet 9 has been debated for years. If the mysterious planet really exists why haven’t we been able to detect it yet?
Astronomers are now saying that the mythical “Planet X” may actually be real. Scientists are calling it “Planet 9” and while it’s very difficult to produce clear evidence of its existence, some scientists are absolutely convinced that it’s out there. Something big is hiding beyond Pluto and we must find out what it is.
According to Konstantin Batygin, a planetary astrophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California, there are now five different lines of observational evidence pointing to the existence of Planet 9.
The planet has a mass ten times that of Earth’s, and is most likely situated twenty times as far from the Sun as Neptune.
“If you were to remove this explanation and imagine Planet Nine does not exist, then you generate more problems than you solve. All of a sudden, you have five different puzzles, and you must come up with five different theories to explain them,” Batygin said.
Elizabeth Bailey, Batygin’s graduate student showed that Planet Nine could have tilted the planets of our solar system during the last 4.5 billion years. This could explain a longstanding mystery: Why is the plane in which the planets orbit tilted about 6 degrees compared to the sun’s equator?
“Over long periods of time, Planet Nine will make the entire solar-system plane precess or wobble, just like a top on a table,” Batygin said.
The last telltale sign of Planet Nine’s presence involves the solar system’s contrarians: objects from the Kuiper Belt that orbit in the opposite direction from everything else in the solar system. Planet Nine’s orbital influence would explain why these bodies from the distant Kuiper Belt end up “polluting” the inner Kuiper Belt.
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“No other model can explain the weirdness of these high-inclination orbits,” Batygin said. “It turns out that Planet Nine provides a natural avenue for their generation. These things have been twisted out of the solar system plane with help from Planet Nine and then scattered inward by Neptune.”
Not long ago, Spanish astronomers used a novel technique to analyze the orbits of the so-called extreme trans-Neptunian objects and, once again, they point out that there is something perturbing them: a planet located at a distance between 300 to 400 times the Earth-Sun separation.
Previous calculations supporting the theory Planet 9 does exists, were motivated by the peculiar distribution of the orbits found for the trans-Neptunian objects (TNO) of the Kuiper belt, which apparently revealed the presence of a Planet Nine or X in the confines of the Solar System.
The six most distant known objects in the solar system with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) have a tilt and alignment that can only be maintained by some outside force. (Image credit: Caltech/R. Hurt, IPAC)
Batygin and his team will now use the Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. The sophisticated tool is especially good for picking out dim, extremely distant objects lost in huge swaths of sky.
But where did Planet Nine come from? Batygin says he spends little time ruminating on its origin — whether it is a fugitive from our own solar system or, just maybe, a wandering rogue planet captured by the sun’s gravity.
“I think Planet Nine’s detection will tell us something about its origin,” he said.
Astronomers think Planet 9 could turn out to be our missing super Earth.