Since Pluto has been demoted from Planet 9 to a dwarf planet, there are officially only eight known planets in our solar system. But for years, scientists have promoted the idea that there may be an extra planet yet to be found. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say that the elusive Planet 9 may lurk on the cold outskirts of the Solar System.
In fact, the planet is so far away from the sun that it would need up to 20,000 years to perform a full orbit around its host star. And to put the distance even more into perspective, the New Horizons probe reached Pluto after a 9-year trip, which was pretty fast to some scientists’ standards. But to reach the ninth planet the probe would need half a century.
Caltech astronomers say that they have evidence that Planet 9 is real. Researchers estimate that the planet is a ice giant just like Uranus and Neptune 10 times more massive than Earth with an orbit around the sun that is 20 times wider than Neptune’s.
The scientists who made the discovery said that they based their assumptions on statistical data and computer modeling. Nevertheless, NASA was reluctant to the new hypothesis because it hasn’t been confirmed yet through an image.
Researchers believe that the new planet gravitationally dominates a chunk of space that is larger than any of the rest of the planets in the Solar System. This may be why a series of disturbances in the Kuiper Belt cannot be explained in the absence of a hidden planet.
Mike Brown, one of the Caltech researchers involved in the discovery, acknowledged that at first the team was ‘quite skeptical’ on the possibility for this planet to exist. But as evidence continued to pile up, researchers became convinced that it must be somewhere out there.
Brown said that for the first time in more than 150 years, there was solid proof to back the hypothesis. Brown recalled that one of his postdoc students have found an anomaly in the Kuiper Belt that could only be explained through the presence of a planet. The student noted that about a dozen rocky objects in the Belt shared a similar orbital feature. At that time, Brown was skeptic about the Planet Nine theory, but he had the curiosity to dig further.
After one year, he and fellow researcher Konstantin Batygin found that six objects in the Kuiper Belt were tilted at the exact angle against the plane of the eight planets. The probability for such thing to happen randomly is 0.007 percent. So, researchers suspect that there must be something else that aligns their orbits – a ninth planet.
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