Our solar system may have 9 planets after all.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology, also know as Caltech, have announced they’ve found evidence of a “giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer reaches of the solar system.”
They’ve dubbed the icy orb “Planet Nine.”
Konstantin Batygin is one of the researchers behind the discovery, and Assistant Professor of Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology.
He spoke with Simi Sara about the process that went into this finding.
He says the entire project took almost two years to complete, and it all started when his colleague Mike Brown (also known as the Pluto killer) walked into his office and asked him if he’d seen “weird orbits in the distance of the Kyper belt?”.
Who gets to name it?
“I think humanity will get to name it. We would feel somewhat uncomfortable with two guys at Socal drinking coffee and coming up with a name for it.”
LISTEN to the full interview with Konstantin Batygin:
What sets this discovery apart from other Planet X theories?
Dr. Rick Fienberg is with the American Astronomical Society and he spoke with Jon McComb today about the findings.
The idea that there’s another planet out there has been around for a long time, and it’s had it’s share of speculation and wild theories, but Fienberg says there’s a big difference between this study and earlier claims of a probably Planet X in the outer solar system.
“Earlier claims were often based on wild speculation about what might have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, or what might be lurking out there in the unseen that’s causing various ill effects here on earth.”
In this case, says Fienberg, the astronomers looked at what we have discovered in the outer solar system and they’ve recognized there are some unusual patterns in the orbits of small icy asteroid-like bodies beyond Pluto.
“And these properties can be explained if there is yet another large planet in the outer solar system somehow affecting these objects by its gravity.”
How big a deal is this if it’s true?
If there is another big planet out there Fienberg says it will help us understand our “neighbourhood” better.
He stresses that the planet is not confirmed.
But if it is, it may be a “super-Earth” or mini-Neptune” planet – which we don’t currently have in our solar system.
LISTEN: Have we found a ninth planet in our solar system?
15,000 year orbit around the sun
“That’s of course very different from the planets that we know much closer in. Even Pluto, whether you call it a planet or not, it only takes about 240 years to go around the sun. So something that would take 15,000 years would be a very different animal. “