Astronomers claim Planet Nine would be found in 16 months
Astronomers could discover the solar system’s mystery ninth planet by 2019, scientists have claimed.Dubbed Planet Nine, the elusive world is believed by many to be responsible for the strange shaped orbits of objects in the outer realms of the solar system, but it is yet to be seen.
But with up to 10 research groups scouring the skies, astronomers believe it won’t remain hidden for long and could be discovered in the next 16 months. The claims were made by astronomer Mike Brown, one of those who proposed the existence of the mystery world, while speaking at a conference in the United States (U.S.) this week.
“I’m pretty sure, I think, that by the end of next winter – not this winter, next winter – I think that there’ll be enough people looking for it that … somebody’s actually going to track this down,” said Professor Brown, speaking at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) in Pasadena.
The mystery world was first proposed by Professor Brown’s team to account for the long elliptical orbit of frigid objects in the extending out beyond the Kuiper belt past Pluto – whose planetary status was in part killed off by Professor Brown’s team at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in Pasadena.
But with a number of research groups dedicated to finding evidence of the planet and some of the world’s most advanced telescopes could help pinpoint it in the night sky, potentially before the next DPS conference.
The discovery would mark ‘a pretty quick turnaround’ from hypothetical to confirmed planet, explains Space.com’s Mike Wall, who reported the claims.An increasing number of distant icy rocks have been found past Neptune – the last known official planet of the solar system – including Eris, which was discovered by the CalTech team and was the death blow for Pluto’s planetary status, due to its larger size.
Among these trans-Neptunian ice worlds are a growing number like Sedna and L91, whose distorted orbits take them far out from the sun, taking thousands of years to make a single pass.
But as more of these objects have been discovered, their elongated paths points to a strong gravitational pull from a large object beyond Neptune – the theoretical Planet Nine.
Astronomers believe that the orbits of a number of bodies in the distant reaches of the solar system have been disrupted by the pull of an as yet unidentified planet.
First proposed by a group at CalTech in the US, this alien world was theorised to explain the distorted paths seen in distant icy bodies.In order to fit in with the data they have, this alien world – popularly called Planet Nine – would need to be roughly four time the size of Earth and ten times the mass.
Researchers say a body of this size and mass would explain the clustered paths of a number of icy minor planets beyond Neptune.Its huge orbit would mean it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make a single pass around the sun.
The theoretical Planet Nine is based on the gravitational pull it exerts on these bodies, with astronomers confident it will be found in the coming years.
Those hoping for theoretical Earth-sized planets proposed by astrologers or science fiction writers – which are ‘hiding behind the sun’ and linked with Doomsday scenarios – may have to keep searching.
Professor Brown and the Caltech team have proposed that in order to exert such a huge gravitational pull on these minor planets, Planet Nine would be around four times the size of Earth, ten times the mass and take between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the sun.
According to Space.com, one of the reasons it has not yet been spotted is that it is currently at its furthest point from the sun on its epic planetary path, called its aphelion.
This could mean Planet Nine is currently 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun – with 1 AU being the distance from Earth to the sun.But tools such as the Subaru telescope in Hawaii and instruments at Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory could be up to the task.Professor Brown told reporters: “There are a lot of people looking, and we are trying as hard as we can to tell people where to look. We want it to be found.”
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