Science

Mysterious Planet Nine Might Prove To Be Something Else Altogether

planet-nine-new-theory
Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

You’d think that with all the telescopes we have available, all the satellites and all the research, we’d have a pretty solid understanding of the planets present in our Solar System but that doesn’t really seem to be the case.

Astronomers have been baffled about a hypothesis that initially took off in 2016 when some Caltech astronomers noticed some objects in the Kuiper Belt were tilted 30 degrees off from everything else around them. This tilt did not make a lot of sense, when put against the way the eight planets are set.

Via mathematical models, the team could only propose that there is a ninth planet, much larger than Earth, that is tugging at them, from somewhere beyond Neptune, which could explain the strange orbits.

Since a number of dwarf planets have been appearing on the edges of our solar system regularly, the theory wouldn’t be that much of a stretch, at the end of the day.

Now the scientists have come up with another explanation, in a new paper: the unusual orbits of the objects in the Kuiper Belt might also happen due to a disc that is made up of icy bodies that, when put together, are ten times as big as the Earth.

The Planet Nine hypothesis is a fascinating one, but if the hypothesised ninth planet exists, it has so far avoided detection. ” stated paper c-author Antranik Sefilian, PhD student at Cambridge’s Department of Applies Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. “We wanted to see whether there could be another, less dramatic and perhaps more natural, cause for the unusual orbits we see in some [of the distant objects]. We thought, rather than allowing for a ninth planet, and then worry about its formation and unusual orbit, why not simply account for the gravity of small objects constituting a disc beyond the orbit of Neptune and see what it does for us?”

Of course, the scientists did admit that they have as much proof about the disc as they do about the existence of Planet Nine but all great discoveries have started with theories, after all. Unfortunately, from where our planet is situated, we cannot see into every spot in our solar system.

When observing other systems, we often study the disc surrounding the host star to infer the properties of any planets in orbit around it. The problem is when you’re observing the disc from inside the system, it’s almost impossible to see the whole thing at once.” said Sefilian “While we don’t have direct observational evidence for the disc, neither do we have it for Planet Nine, which is why we’re investigating other possibilities. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that observations of Kuiper belt analogues around other stars, as well as planet formation models, reveal massive remnant populations of debris.”

The third theory suggests that both the disc and the planet could co-exist together in the same area.

When the scientists will finally get to the bottom of it, we’re quite sure it will be a great discovery but, until then, the mystery continues to unfold.

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