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'Rebellious' Object Found Orbiting Around Neptune

Aug 18, 2016 03:47 AM EDT
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Astronomer Discovers New Moon Orbiting Neptune

An object found in the outskirts of the solar system has baffled scientists due to its "rebellious" nature. The object is called a trans-Neptunian object (TNO) that goes by the name of Niku, which has been orbiting around planet Neptune.

An astronomer at Queen's University, Dr. Michele Bannister made the announcement about Niku. From the Chinese word "rebellious," Niku has been breaking the rules when it comes to orbiting bodies travelling the solar system. Niku has been orbiting above the plane of the solar system. Adding to the intrigue, Niku has been revolving around the sun - backwards.

All objects in the solar system follow the same direction. Also, these objects stick close to the flat plane. For Niku to orbit away from the plane, this is quite rare, according to Wesley Fraser from the Astrophysics Research Center.

"The orbit of Niku is unusual in that it is nearly perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. More than that, it is orbiting in the opposite direction of most solar system bodies. Furthermore, there are a few bodies that share the same or orbital plane, with some orbiting prograde and some orbiting retrograde. That was unexpected," explains Dr. Matthew J. Holman, a professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Niku along with five other objects in the solar system are travelling backward on the plane, which is tilted at 110 degrees. Another similar discovery of six objects in the Kuiper Belt, which are also orbiting away from the plane of the solar system, is leading scientists to believe that the ninth planet exists. Planet Nine is said to exist in the outer edge of the solar system, and is 10 times the size of planet Earth.

"Planet Nine seems to be gravitationally influencing another nearby population of bodies that are also orbiting nearly perpendicular to the plane of the solar system," explained Holman, adding, "but those objects have much larger orbits that also come closer to sun at their closest approach. The similarity (perpendicular) nature of Niku's orbit to that of the more distant population hints at a connection."

Whatever is causing Niku's strange behavior is clearly an indicator that there is something more on the outer edge of the solar system. For now, scientists and astronomers are cataloguing every new discovery to better understand the dynamics of the solar system and the objects within it.

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