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Astronomers Find New Evidence Of Planet Nine's Existence

May 20, 2018 11:31 PM EDT
Planet Nine—Artist's Representation
This is a distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side.
(Photo : Caltech | R. Hurt (IPAC))

Even within the solar system, there are plenty of secrets left to uncover. The elusive Planet Nine is one of them.

The theoretical ninth planet in the solar system has yet to be proven, but a recent discovery gives its existence real legs to stand on.

A New Heavenly Object

According to Quanta Magazine, astronomers have discovered an object called 2015 BP519 that's described to be potentially as big as a dwarf planet. While most of the heavenly bodies in the solar system occupy just one plane, this new object in the solar system orbits on a plane that's tilted 54 degrees above the regular plane.

This peculiar angle of the object's orbit can be explained with the presence of something like Planet Nine, a planet estimated to be 10 times Earth's mass.

In the paper, the scientists say that it "adds to the circumstantial evidence for the existence of this proposed new member of the solar system."

"It's not proof that Planet Nine exists," coauthor David Gerdes, an astronomer at the University of Michigan, tells Quanta Magazine. "But I would say the presence of an object like this in our solar system bolsters the case for Planet Nine."

Gerdes and the rest of the team found the object using data from the Dark Energy Survey, which surveys a region above the solar system's plane. The strange orbit stood out immediately and the astronomers could not explain the phenomenon until they added the theoretical Planet Nine to the simulations.

The Search For Planet Nine

It was Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin who predicted the existence of Planet Nine in a paper in Astronomical Journal in 2016.

According to the duo, a number of distant worlds dubbed the Kuiper belt objects orbit the same quadrant of the solar system, which can be attributed to a ninth planet. They are certain that Planet Nine is pulling these objects into their extraordinary orbits.

Their calculations reveal that the ninth planet would have the size of a small Neptune or a large Earth, with a frigid atmosphere of methane or nitrogen, a report from Popular Mechanics said. It would have an elliptical orbit with a year as long as 20,000 Earth years.

It would also be one of the most remote discoveries within the solar system, if it's found.

"It has a real magnetism to it," Gregory Laughlin, an astronomer at Yale University, tells Quanta Magazine. "I mean, finding a 10-Earth-mass planet in our own solar system would be a discovery of unrivaled scientific magnitude."

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