For decades now, a significant part of the scientific community worldwide has remained convinced that a ninth planet is lurking in the outer edges of our Solar System, exerting a massive influence on its neighborhood and to some extent, on the entire Solar System. And no, we aren’t talking about Pluto. Pluto is happy being a dwarf planet – just get over it!
The alleged ninth planet in our planetary neighborhood, commonly referred to as the Planet Nine, is thought to be massive and rotating around the Sun at a distance several times greater than the distance between Sun and Neptune, the eighth planet.
Because, our (till now) hypothetical planet is so far away from the Sun, it’s incredibly difficult for astronomers to come up with conclusive direct observational data regarding its existence. So, they are having to rely on mathematics-based indirect methods – kind of the similar but more sophisticated techniques that led to the discovery of Neptune and Pluto.
All efforts to discover Planet Nine have met with some amount of success – but just not enough for scientists to officially confirm its existence. But probably for the first time in history, astronomers are confident that the hunt for Planet Nine could be over in as little as 16-months.
The elusive planet could be somewhere around 10-times more massive than our Earth and its distance from the Sun is approximately 20-times the distance between the Sun and Neptune. This essentially means that Planet Nine, if it really exists, could take a period ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 years to revolve once around the Sun.
A group of researchers at the University of Technology California is claiming that they have found reliable proof of the clear and undeniable influence Planet Nine holds over its cosmic neighbors. In fact, they believe that the massive planet could be responsible for the mysterious “wobbling” of the Solar System that has long puzzled astronomers.
Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, along with their colleague Elizabeth Bailey, put forward this theory at the annual meeting of planetary scientists of the American Astronomical Society.
For the uninitiated, it has been long known that all the planets orbit the Sun in a flat plane with respect to the Sun, all aligning with respect to one within a couple of degrees max. However, the planets themselves are tilted at six degrees to the Sun, making it appear as if it is off at an angle. Scientists could never understand how exactly that alignment ended up happening.
However, Bailey, Batygin, and Brown are saying that they might have an answer. “Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment,” lead author Elizabeth Bailey said in a statement.
“It’s [why the Sun is located in a different plane] such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don’t talk about it,” said Brown. “If you ask yourself where the sun is tilted in real life there’s where we predict it should be,” he added
While the explanations and evidence put forward by the trio are not conclusive yet, many scientists believe they are on the right path.
You can read more about Bailey, Batygin and Brown’s study in the latest edition of the Astrophysics Journal.