Whether it exists or not, Planet Nine continues to lurk in the proverbial shadows. Now, the scientific community has a new line of investigation into the elusive space object.
That's because astronomers might have unknowingly observed Planet Nine as far back as 1983, a report from Science Alert reveals.
An astronomer at the Imperial College London, Michael Rowan-Robinson, analyzed data of observations from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) taken in 1983 and he argues that it may contain evidence for the elusive Planet Nine.
Searching for the elusive Planet Nine
Planet Nine is currently only a hypothesis, extrapolated in 2016 from the observation of an anomalous gravitational force in the Kuiper Belt on the outskirts of our solar system. The elusive object may not actually exist, or it may, in fact, be a tiny black hole, according to a recent theory.
In Rowan-Robinson's new paper, which appears in a pre-print server and has not yet been peer-reviewed, the astronomer says that the images taken by IRAS in 1983 might directly show Planet Nine, though he himself acknowledges that it's far from being a sure thing. In his paper, he says that "given the poor quality of the IRAS detections, at the very limit of the survey, and in a very difficult part of the sky for far-infrared detections, the probability of the candidate being real is not overwhelming."
Still, he does also point out that "given the great interest of the Planet Nine hypothesis, it would be worthwhile to check whether an object with the proposed parameters and in the region of sky proposed, is inconsistent with planetary [movements]."
Planet Michael Rowan-Robinson?
The original 2016 paper that indicated evidence for a potential Planet Nine suggested that the hypothetical planet could be up to ten times the mass of the Earth, and that it has avoided detection because it is up to 10 times Neptune's distance from the sun and therefore receives very little light from the Sun. However, extensive investigation has so far failed to uncover direct evidence of the cosmic object, leading in part to the black hole theory.
In his paper, Rowan-Robinson proposes a new line of investigation: based on the 1983 IRAS observations, he has pinpointed three key sources, each of which were detected roughly within a month of each other. The three separate observations are suggestive of a single transient object, Rowan-Robinson says. The astronomer suggests that we analyze infrared and optical data at these three points. It may be a massive shot in the proverbial, and literal, dark, but if the new line of investigation somehow provides direct evidence of a Planet Nine, let's just hope they don't actually call it Planet Michael.