Could planet-size object beyond Pluto be solar system's 10th planet?


Similar to the Mars planet is in the Kuiper belt - the Solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune containing many icy celestial bodies.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have been studying the Kuiper Belt, basically a giant ring of space trash circling the very edge of the solar system, and they've noticed something odd. They calculated that this "Planet 9" is over 25 times farther from the Sun than Pluto is. In short, a large object such as a planet could be hiding in the Kuiper Belt.

The body was discovered because of its gravitational effect on the orbital plane of distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBO). This object is said to be in the fringes of our own solar system, and all signs point toward it being a yet-undiscovered planet. Apparently, it is possible to predict the angle which has been dubbed the inclination for any object observed. Both teams suggested that the gravity of an unseen planet, perhaps ten times Earth's mass, had shepherded the objects into those curious arrangements (see "Far afield").

Whatever is affecting the Kuiper Belt objects the researchers have spotted is much nearer.

Specifically, some KOBs are tilted away from the plane by eight degrees, meaning there is something that might be interfering with the orbital plane of the outer solar system. This would have a strong enough gravitational field so as to affect the KBOs orbits. Instead, that spot in the lineup would belong to another suspected planet in the outer solar system that many scientists are searching for but have yet to confirm.

There has been some skepticism on this matter with some not wanting to introduce new worlds into the solar system, considering there is the question of where they have been all this time.

'If it's the size of Mars, that is a pretty big object, which would suggest it would be most likely scattered out there by planetary movements further in'.

The mass of "Planet 10" is expected to be much more than the Mars and Earth, with a positive possibility of even more planets orbitting the Sun.

"According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured", said Volk, lead author of the study published in the Astronomical Journal.

"We found that the average plane actually warps away from the invariable plane", said Malhotra.

Because a planet, by definition, has to have cleared its orbit of minor planets such as KBOs, the authors refer to the hypothetical mass as a planetary mass object. Volk and Malhotra calculate the chances of such limitations leading to the delayed discovery to be at 30 percent. The researchers believe that the mystery may be solved when the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) comes online in 2020. Once completed, the LSST will take real-time surveys of the sky every night from its perch atop Cerro Pachón in Chile.



Otras noticias