Is There A Ninth Planet Lurking Around The Sun?
The man who helped demote Pluto to a dwarf planet has discovered clues to the existence of a ninth planet.
Astrophysicist Mike Brown is known for his discoveries in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of celestial objects beyond Neptune. His finding of Eris nearly a decade ago paved the way for Pluto's ouster from the planet club.
The new ninth planet, if it exists, is however no lightweight. In fact Brown and his colleague Konstanin Batygin believe that it could be at least 10 times more massive than Earth and just as big if not as big as Neptune, reports CNET. The planet could be the core of a gas giant ousted from the solar system during its formative days.
"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," Batygin said. "For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system's planetary census is incomplete."
The evidence that the duo presented seeks to explain astronomical observations pertaining to some objects in the Kuiper Belt. Some of these objects are known to follow eccentric elliptical orbits, as if influenced by a larger gravitational bully.
What Brown and Batygin did was to simulate the orbits of these objects by placing an additional planet at various positions around the solar system. They found that the additional planet was the best fit when placed pointing in the direction opposite that pointed by the Kuiper objects.
"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," Brown said.
Their work is expected to set off a search for the ninth planet as astronomers train their telescopes to spot it. If Brown and Batygin are right, the planet is 20 times farther from Sun than Neptune is!