Science

Dwarf planet's orbit could point to existence of Planet Nine

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Back in 2016, a pair of planetary scientists announced that they believed a ghost planet, dubbed Planet Nine, was orbiting somewhere well beyond Pluto in our own solar system. The claim led to scientists searching for this theorized planet that is thought to have about ten times the mass of Earth. Astronomers have now reported having found another distant body in our solar system that could be as large as a dwarf planet with a very strange orbit.

The scientists say that the orbit of this potential dwarf planet is so odd it is thought to have been affected by Planet Nine. The new discovery confirms a prediction made by astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown who first theorized the existence of Planet Nine. The new discovery was made by astronomer David Gerdes who says that the presence of an object like this bolsters the case for Planet Nine.

The new object was spotted in data from the Dark Energy Survey that studies a region well above the plane of the solar system. Most objects in our solar system orbit within the same plane, but the new object doesn’t. Its orbit is tilted 54-degrees from the plane of the solar system. This is something that Batygin and Brown predicted.

Those two astronomers had predicted Planet Nine’s existence based on the strange orbit of a handful of Kuiper belt objects. That small population of objects loops outward toward the same quadrant of the solar system, something unlikely to happen by chance according to the astronomers.

A new paper ran many simulations of the object within the known solar system letting the clock run forward and backward 4.5 billion years at a time. They were unable to explain how the object established such a tilted orbit until they added in a ninth planet. That planet had characteristics that matched perfectly with the predictions of Batygin and Brown. A strong and sustained interaction with Planet Nine appears to be the only way the new object could get such an erratic orbit. Scientists are still studying this ghost planet and the argument over whether it exists will continue until more evidence is gathered.

SOURCE: Quanta Magazine

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