The presence of planets, such as Saturn, orbiting within our solar system is no surprise. But what if, unknown to us, another planet actually exists? This is exactly what a group of researchers undoubtedly argue, with new evidence supporting their ‘Planet 9 Hypothesis’.
Two astronomers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) believe they have located an unidentified planet, disrupting the gravitational orbit of distant bodies within our solar system. They believe this planet is approximately four times the size of Earth and would take between 10,000 to 20,000 years to complete a single orbit around the sun.
What is the Planet 9 Hypothesis?
Past research focused on the orbits of masses known as ‘trans-neptunian objects’ (TNOs). TNOs refer to smaller planets which are located beyond Neptune, the furthest detected planet from the sun. TNOs exist within a region of the solar system known as the ‘Kuiper belt’. These researches found the orbit of TNOs were unusually distributed. Typically, unusual orbits like these can be explained by the gravitational influence of nearby planets, but there are no existing planets that could have caused this kind of disruption.
These findings were not without their limitations, with fellow researchers finding numerous observational biases in the theory. They proposed TNOs were actually not the only objects in the solar system with disrupted orbits. It was therefore theorised, disruptions were caused by a random distribution of orbits rather than the hypothesised ‘Planet Nine’.
Incredibly exciting new research has emerged from two astronomers from the Complutense University of Madrid. A new and novel technique was implemented to analyse ‘extreme trans-neptunian objects’ (ETNOs). This technique, which poses a far lower risk to observational bias, studied the orbit of ETNOs and found results once again indicating the existence of a ninth planet.
The distance between the sun and ETNOs were analysed, along with any drastic changes in orbit, or collisions. The theory was, if there is no object present to disrupt a ETNOs, they would be uniformly distributed. However, if an object did in fact exist, ETNOs would then move away from the orbit of this object’s path.
The researchers did in fact find a correlation, where none should exist, between the orbit of ETNOs and an unknown object. One researcher, De La Fuente Marcos, undoubtedly exclaims “we interpret these results as signs of the presence of a planet that is actively interacting with them”.
Debunking the Top 3 Questions Posed by Sceptics
1. Observational Biases
Many argue previous research has been subject to systematic errors due to the way in which these observations have been made. Despite this, the techniques used within the new research depend on the size and shape of an ETNOs orbit, parameters which are relatively free of observational bias.
2. Could the Kupier Belt be responsible?
It was suggested the Kuiper belt alone could create a gravitational force large enough to disrupt ETNOs. Research shows this simply is not the case, with the Kuiper belt having to require 100 times the mass is currently does to have such a force. Furthermore, sceptics claimed peculiar orbits of ETNOs were merely random, however calculations show this has a mere 0.007% probability of occurring randomly.
3. Why has it Never Been Previously Detected?
In the 2009 NASA complete ‘sky survey’ of the solar system,‘planet 9’ was not detected. However, although the heat from planets larger than Saturn were analysed, ‘planet 9’ would still be too small to be detected.
The solar system is certainly an incredibly complex and tremendous entity. This exciting new research is paving the way for a greater understanding of space and the planets existing within it.