Getty ImagesMark Garlick/Science Photo Library
There might be a large planet lurking somewhere at the very edge of our solar system, and astronomers are hunting for it. While they have yet to find direct evidence of the planet, a recent discovery provides yet more indirect evidence that the planet does, in fact, exist. Astronomers found a small solar system body with a strange orbit that they say can only be explained by another, bigger planet hiding out there somewhere.
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Astronomers have speculated for a few years that a ninth planet may be orbiting the sun at a great distance, and have spent the past few years searching for it. They first started the hunt back in 2016 after looking at a handful of distant solar system objects and noticing something strange. These objects, all orbiting further away than Pluto, had something similar in common: they orbited the sun at a distinct angle from all of the inner planets.
The observations suggests the gravitational influence of another planet is altering the distant objects’ orbits. Now additional findings of a newly discovered planetary object with an odd orbit, called 2015 BP519, support the case for an undiscovered Planet Nine. 2015 BP519 orbits at a 54 degree angle compared to nearly everything in the inner solar system, and the theory is that Planet Nine is responsible.
If Planet Nine does exist, it’s likely only a matter of time until astronomers find it. It would be difficult, however, because it’s calculated orbit is so incredibly far away. Planet Nine is likely several times as far away as Pluto, meaning it’s barely a dot in even our most powerful telescopes—and it’s dark. Adding to the difficulty is the complication that we don’t know exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Still, if it’s out there, we’ll find it eventually.