Home » 9th planet of the Solar System: the hunt continues with new clues!

9th planet of the Solar System: the hunt continues with new clues!

A new Caltech study re-proposes the existence of the 9th planet in the Solar System. What clues were considered in the new study and where does the hunt stand?

Categories Astronomy

Most will remember the previous classification of the Solar System including the small Pluto. Others will have already come across the infamous 9th planet of the Solar System: several legends, often also related to catastrophic events, have accompanied him over the years. Today new evidence has been published to support its existence. But where could it hide?

What characteristics could the mysterious planet 9 have?

Already in the past some predictions had advanced the hypothesis of the existence of a ninth planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. At the origin of the new study there would be anomalies found in some data from orbital measurements: it seems that a gravitational field perturbs some asteroids at the edge of the Solar System. In fact, we are talking about the Kuiper Belt (KBO), a region that is home to groups of smaller objects.

9th planet of the Solar System Artistic Representation Solar System Credit: NASA/JPL
Solar System Artistic Representation. Credits: NASA/JPL

The hypothesis comes directly from Caltech, where astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin say they are almost certain that the discovery is imminent. In particular, there are 11 objects of study analyzed by the American team. As for the planet instead some hypotheses have been advanced among which one referred to its period of revolution around the Sun: well 7.400 years!

It’s conformation could see it as a rocky super-Earth or a gaseous mini-Neptune, for a mass not expected to exceed 10 times Earth’s. The study reports an optimistic 99.6% probability that the mysterious 9th planet in the Solar System will be the one to disrupt the KBO.

Will this new study trigger a hunt for Planet 9 in the Solar System?

To stay within the semantic realm of the Seven Seas, the two researchers have created a veritable treasure map. Their study led them to define portions of the sky where the mysterious planet is most likely to be located. Of course, the announcement is not very encouraging since the two already have behind them a similar prediction in 2016, which turned out to be wrong. That certainly didn’t deter them:

“Now we really know where to look and where not to look. That should be enough – unless we’ve done something wrong.”

Mike Brown, California Institute of Technology
Subaru Telescope Credit: subarutelescope.org
Subaru Telescope Credit: subarutelescope.org

Another clue comes directly from the stellar systems close to us that feature similar planets. However, many scholars consider this evidence to be not very credible and doubt its existence. The fact that it has not yet been identified certainly does not play in favor of the Californian team. If it does exist, however, it is certainly located in the farthest portion of its orbit.

The brightness conditions are also an unknown: not knowing its composition makes it difficult to estimate its magnitude. Various telescopes around the world scan the sky continuously: the two scholars are using the Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The feat seems harder than people think, but the Universe often gives us surprises, so we’ll just have to wait.

The previous attempts and the discovery of Pluto

For a century some scientists have been hunting for the 9th planet of the Solar System: famous was the research of the astronomer Percival Lowell, who wanted to find Planet X, as he called it. His belief in its existence led him to leave $1 million in his will to fund the search after his death in 1916.

9th planet of the Solar System Pluto, recolored image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto, recolored image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Accidentally, in 1930 Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto right from the Lowell Observatory. The more nostalgic will remember with pleasure as until 2006 it was he who boasted the role of 9th planet. The International Astronomical Union has decided, however, to downgrade it to a dwarf planet, given its small size and its similarity with other objects at the edge of the Solar System.

The debate remains open and the eyes of observers continue to scan the sky. If the hunt has yet to yield results in 2023, a powerful ally will side with the scholars: the Vera C. Observatory. Rubin. It is currently under construction in Chile at more than 2,500 meters above sea level. These studies remind us how even things that seem known to us, such as the our Solar System, can hold surprises: will this be the case?

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