Planet Nine Could Be Our Solar System’s Missing ‘Super Earth’
by Samantha Mathewson October 12, 2017 (Space.com)
• NASA has detected an as yet unseen “Planet 9” determined to be 10 times the mass of the Earth and 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune.
• Caltech astronomers say that this massive planet is causing bodies in our Solar System, including planets, to tilt.
• This could explain why Kuiper Belt objects orbit in the opposite direction from everything else in the solar system.
• The most common type of planets that have been discovered around other stars are rocky “Super Earths”. Planet 9 may be our Solar System’s Super Earth.
• The astronomers plan to search for the mysterious planet using the Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii.
Planet Nine is out there, and astronomers are determined to find it, according to a new statement from NASA. In fact, mounting evidence suggests it’s hard to imagine our solar system without the unseen world.
The hypothetical planet is believed to be about 10 times more massive than Earth and located in the dark, outer reaches of the solar system, approximately 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune is. While the mysterious world still has yet to be found, astronomers have discovered a number of strange features of our solar system that are best explained by the presence of a ninth planet, according to the NASA statement.
“There are now five different lines of observational evidence pointing to the existence of Planet Nine,” Konstantin Batygin, a planetary astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, said in the statement. “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.” [The Evidence for ‘Planet Nine’ in Our Solar System (Gallery)]
In 2016, Batygin and co-author Mike Brown, an astronomer at Caltech, published a study that examined the elliptical orbits of six known objects in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region of icy bodies stretching from Neptune outward toward interstellar space. Their findings revealed that all of those Kuiper Belt objects have elliptical orbits that point in the same direction and are tilted about 30 degrees “downward” compared to the plane in which the eight official planets circle the sun, according to the statement.
Using computer simulations of the solar system with a Planet Nine, Batygin and Brown also showed that there should be even more objects tilted a whopping 90 degrees with respect to the solar plane. Further investigation revealed that five such objects were already known to fit these parameters, the researchers said.
Since then, the astronomers have found new evidence that further supports the existence of Planet Nine. With help from Elizabeth Bailey, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at Caltech, the team showed that Planet Nine’s influence might have tilted the planets of our solar system, which would explain why the zone in which the eight major planets orbit the sun is tilted by 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 in the statement.
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