Evidence has surfaced that a previously unknown planet may be existing in the outer solar system, according to U.S. researchers.
In a statement by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), researchers said that the object, named Planet Nine, “has a mass about 10 times that of Earth” and follows a “bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the distant solar system. In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the Sun.”
Published in The Astronomical Journal, Researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown said they have not spotted Planet Nine, even called Planet X. The scientists have further observed that Planet Nine has affected the movement of the outer planets in the solar system. “Like a parent maintaining the arc of a child on a swing with periodic pushes, Planet Nine nudges the orbits of distant Kuiper Belt objects such that their configuration with relation to the planet is preserved,” CalTech said in a statement.
Nevertheless, absolute certainty can only be made when the planet is seen directly. “The paper is interesting, but until somebody’s observed it, there’s nothing,” Dave Jewitt, a planetary scientist at UCLA said, according to The Verge.
Brown, one of the researchers to suggest the existence of Planet Nine, was an important contributor when Pluto’s planetary status was downgraded in 2006, according to Yahoo News. Another dwarf planet, Eris, was discovered which was larger than Pluto and was a candidate for the 10th planet. However, the new definition of planet issued by the International Astronomical Union in 2006 did not accept either of the two objects as planets.
Bruce Macintosh, planetary scientist at Stanford University, said that the idea of such a large object existing in the outer reaches of the solar system isn’t surprising. “Other systems are full of things that are just the right size for this,” he said. “It kind of makes our Solar System look a lot like other systems.”
Several telescopes, including the twin 10-meter telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea in Hawaii, are looking out for Planet Nine.
Batygin, who is an assistant professor of planetary science, said, “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’ve become increasingly convinced that it is out there. For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete.”