If you were to jot down a list of the things you thought humanity would discover during 2016, how high on the list would a new planet be?
Two scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena may have done just that. If confirmed, their discovery won’t just raise the number of planets in our solar system from eight to nine, but it would provide evidence that a planet that is roughly 4-10 times bigger than Earth is lurking out in the cosmos just beyond Pluto.
The nexus for this discovery occurred when Caltech scientists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown observed that a series of space rocks just beyond Pluto (which was downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006) were in a pattern of alignment and there wasn’t any apparent reason for this.
According to Science Magazine, the pair say that there’s only a 0.007% possiblilty that these heavenly forms could have landed up in this formation by accident. More likely, they say, the cluster was form by the rocks’ proximity to the elliptical orbit of a planet with a mass 10 times the size of earth.
If Brown’s and Batygin’s readings are correct, Planet 9 would put a huge dent into accepted perceptions about The Milky Way. The new planet’s closest proximity to our sun would be seven time further away than Neptune, meaning its orbit could put it as far away as 1200 AU (Astronomical Units) away at its furthest axis.
Of course all of this is just data crunching at this stage. Planet 9’s existence won’t actually be confirmed until it’s seen.
“Until there’s a direct detection, it’s a hypothesis—even a potentially very good hypothesis,” Brown told Science Magazine.
Ironically it was Brown that downgraded Pluto to a dwarf planet all those years ago. Now thanks to him there may be nine planets in our solar system after all.[Source: Science Magazine] [Picture supplied by Caltech]