Scientists from the California Institute of Technology just announced a new theory about a large planet lying deep within the reaches of our solar system. In a paper released by Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin on January 20, 2016, the two researchers outline the strong evidence they have found for the existence of a new planet about 10 times the size of earth. This discovery comes from the same astronomer who helped prove Pluto should not be considered a planet. In fact, He has helped discover two other planets as well, Sedna and Biden, dwarf planets found in 2014.
“It’s a bad idea to consistently say we have now reached the end of the solar system” – Batygin
Brown (left) and Batygin (right) posing for announcement photo [Image Source: NPR]
Observation and Discovery
Brown noticed that all of the orbits of the current planets swing to one side, which he noted as something that shouldn’t be happening. As presented in their paper, the astronomers claim that this swing in planet orbits can only be described by a large planet about half the size of Neptune. Brown admits that he was skeptical of this discovery at first, but the evidence has proven to him beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a planet out there. Along with the paper, the astronomers released the following video below outlining their discovery.
“They were pointing out that there was something funny going on in the solar system, but nobody could really understand what it was. Ever since they pointed it out, we’ve been scratching our heads.” – Brown
The idea of a super earth also explains the weird orbits of other objects orbiting the sun found in 2014 at the Carnegie Institution for Science. The lead researchers on this project, Trujillo and Sheppard, noted that the orbits of the discovered masses were odd, but left them unexplained. Brown makes a point to say that Batygin and himself did not set out to prove anything, rather the evidence all pointed to the existence of a 9th Planet.
A view of the theorized orbit of Planet 9 as compared to current planetary orbits [Image Source: Cal Tech]
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What’s it look like?
Through modeling of planetary orbits, Brown and Batygin, predicted that the orbit of this new ‘super earth’ would need to be about 20,000 earth years, equivalent to 6 billion miles away from the sun. Even still, this is enough to affect all of the known planets’ orbits. The biggest question from many surrounding this announcement is ‘why haven’t we seen this yet?’ The only reason we can see other planets is because the sun’s light reflects off of them and back towards earth. The theorized super earth is likely so far away that unless you were looking for it, it would be too faint to find. The amount of light reflected by a planet actually decreases by 16 times when you double the distance.
[Image Source: NPR]
It’s Out There
There is good news however, the astronomers believe that there are telescopes in existence capable of finding the planet. In fact, they are so sure of the 9th planet’s existence that they are willing to bet it’s out there, and are even pointing others in the direction to look. Part of this confidence comes from study of past research. From looking at this work and compiling all the data, all previously unexplained orbital data seem to point towards the existence of a 9th Planet.