Remember when the Solar System was simple? When did you learn to say My Very Easy Method Just Sped Up Naming Planets ? Astronomers just got to mess it up, did not they
Now our Solar System is littered with dwarf planets and comets masquerading as asteroids and ridiculous sounding 'moon moons' and we can not deal. Thankfully the case for returning the ninth planet to the list is looking solid, and we might not have to wait long to see it.
We can blame Caltech astronomer Mike Brown for much of this mess. If you were once a Pluto fan, he's the man you send your bottled tears to for his role in his demotion from the planet's line-up
But some of Brown's recent work might end up weirdly making up for the loss of Pluto . Since 201
So why are we waiting so long? It's either there, or it's not. Sadly, planet hunting is not that simple anymore. Astronomers could once satisfy their curiosity by tracking pinpricks of light as they slipped across the heavens, like moths circling a campfire
But what of the bugs out in the darkness, silently creeping around far away from the flames?
Suspicions on the hidden planet's presence were first raised when Brown and his colleagues noticed bunches of objects in the cold regions of the Kuiper Belt were not ' t sitting pretty where they should be.
There are a few reasons why this might be the case. Maybe expectations were wrong. Maybe their data on Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) had some errors in it. Or maybe … just maybe … there was an unseen mass jiggling their orbits.
The past few years have involved whittling away alternative explanations one by one in hope Planet Nine will be the last hypothesis standing. worked with fellow Caltech astronomer Konstantin Batygin to come up with a new method for determining the potential for bias in individual measurements of KBOs
We can breathe a sigh of relief. Based on this newest analysis, there is a 0.2% chance that the clusters of tiny ice objects just happened to cluster that way on their own, making it more likely to push them out of alignment
"Although this analysis does not say anything directly about whether Planet Nine is there, it indicates that the hypothesis rests on a solid foundation, "says Brown.
Working backwards suggests that" something "could definitely qualify as a planet. And then some.
Previously, it had been thought to have a mass about 10 times and a volume four times that of Earth's, with an orbit that took this hypothetical planet 75 times further than Pluto.
Scratch all of that. Based on the latest estimates, Planet Nine is not that far away, and is a little scrawnier than we thought.
"At five Earth masses, Planet Nine is likely to be very reminiscent of a typical extrasolar super-Earth," says Batygin.
Thousands of computerised models have made the virtual equivalent of Planet nine orbit ” width=”700″ style=”display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; width: 100%;”/> Not only are we imagining (1969002) Pluto's orbit ranges from 30 to 50 AU, and it is a terrestrial planet, so while we're still talking a long trip out into the solar wilderness, it's not quite the mind-blowing scale we'd imagined. That said, the farthest object so far confirmed in the Solar System is FarFarOut, at 140 AU
So, the evidence for a new Planet Nine might be significant, but it is still largely circumstantial, until we can peer far enough into the
"My favorite feature of the Planet Nine hypothesis is that it is observatively testable," says Batygin.
"Although finding Planet Nine astronomically is a great challenge, I'm very optimistic that we will image it within the next decade. "
Well, never too early to start looking for a name.