The solar system may have just got a little more cramped. Scientists unveiled evidence on Wednesday of a strange new planet, five to ten times larger than Earth, on the fringes of the solar system. If confirmed, the solar system will jump from eight to nine planets; although, many still want to push the list to ten in protest of Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet.
“This is the first serious claim for the existence of an additional planet in the solar system,” noted planetary scientist Alessandro Morbidelli of France’s Observatory of the Cote d’Azur, who was not involved with the new study. If true, “it would change the portrait of the solar system for everyone.”
Experts claim that the existence of a ninth planet – though plausible – still needs to be verified. Nevertheless, astronomers state the recent findings are the most convincing evidence for a ninth planet to date. The planet, dubbed Planet Nine, is suspected to occupy an orbit about 200 times farther away from the sun than Earth.
“We tried hard ourselves to prove that we were wrong,” co-author of the study, Mike Brown, told sources. “We couldn’t do it, but I hope people are sharpening their pencils right now.”
Most ironic episode in the history of science
If Planet Nine does exist, it would be one of the most ironic episodes in the history of science. Brown first made his claim to fame by defaming Pluto. In particular, Brown discovered a body of ice much farther away from the sun than Pluto. Consequently, Pluto was discovered to be just an another ice body among many rather than a planet among few.
“OK, OK, I am now willing to admit: I DO believe that the solar system has nine planets,” Brown tweeted Wednesday.
Brown and his team base their case for Planet Nine on a collection of small objects past Neptune, which appear to be tugged by the gravitational pull of a massive planet. Six of these small bodies are aligned at one end, which is astronomically improbable. There orbits are projected in the same way as the other eight planets.
To make sense of this phenomena, Brown and Batygin hypothesized that a large body must be exerting a force on the outskirts of the solar system. Further review of the small objects past Neptune showed that they appeared to be under the influence of a giant planet, the researchers said in The Astronomical Journal.
A ninth planet has yet to be empirically verified but “right now the best explanation is a giant planet,” claimed astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C. His research aided Brown and Batygin in unearthing Planet Nine. “It’s still early stages … but it’s a very strong possibility that this planet exists out there.”
How to spot a planet
In order to prove the existence of Planet Nine, Brown and Batygin are putting their telescopes to good use. They propose the planet probably takes 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit the sun, which makes it difficult to see through a lens. However, Brown believes Planet Nine could be detected with the most powerful telescopes available.
If Planet Nine does exist, it can help astronomers to better understand the formation of the early solar system, according to Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“It’s a challenge,” he said when referring to understanding how a planet would’ve gotten way out there and survived.
The existence of a ninth planet would also add some balance to our solar system. None of the planets within the solar system mirror the icy bodies on its fringes, like Planet Nine does.
“We are becoming more normal by finding this very strange planet out there,” Brown said. “Just with this one extra planet, the solar system is much more like other planetary systems we’ve been finding in the galaxy.”