Move over, Pluto: California researchers discover evidence of a ninth planet

Researchers at California Institute of Technology discovered on Jan. 20 a potential ninth planet in the Milky Way galaxy.

Armani JacksonManaging Editor

Researchers at California Institute of Technology discovered on Jan. 20 a potential ninth planet in the Milky Way galaxy.

The two researchers, who may have discovered the existence of the planet through mathematical models and the aid of computer graphics, said they’ve found evidence of a planet but not the planet in entirety, according to California Institute of Technology.

“What the Caltech astronomers are looking at here are objects in very strange orbits–they’re highly elliptical and they’re in a part of the solar system where there really shouldn’t be anything,” science reporter of The New York Times Kenneth Chang said in an interview with The Puyallup Post. “If there isn’t a planet, then there is still something strange going on, and in that sense, a planet is the simplest explanation.”

The two researchers are Assistant Professor of Planetary Science Konstantin Batygin and astronomer and Professor of Planetary Astronomy Mike Brown, who already is popular in the science field for “kicking Pluto out of planethood, so he doesn’t need additional notoriety for the sake of notoriety,” Chang said.

The planet, nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass 10 times greater than Earth, and its orbit is 20 times farther away from the sun compared to Neptune. Its orbital period is about 15,000 years long. Also, its atmosphere contains hydrogen and helium, according to sciencemag.org.

“This new one is way out there,” Astronomy Professor Paul Hinds said. “So even if it’s the size of one of the big gas giants, it’s going be very difficult to find because light goes out from the sun and decreases over what we call an inverse square (a planet’s light reflected from the sun is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source).”

Another revelation–the discovery of the new dwarf planet, 2012VP113, in March 2014–prompted the research to explain clustering of orbital elements, according to The Astronomical Journal.

“There have been many, many predictions of unseen planets in the outer solar system, and these have all come and gone,” Chang said. “This one seems more believable. Mike Brown has a strong record in observing the Kuiper belt and beyond, and he hasn’t overhyped his past results, so there’s good reason to think he’s not overhyping this one.”

The scientific methods for Batygin and Brown’s discovery were published in the The Astronomical Journal on Jan.  20. Research was prompted because of Brown’s collegegues said three of the most distant objects in the Kuiper Belt are similar with respect to an obscure orbital feature, according to Caltech.

Brown and Batygin plan to continue to learn more about Plant Nine’s characteristics.

“I hope they find it,” Pierce College student Jacob Fingerle said. “I’d like to see what it looks like.”

Evidence for the new planet excites both students and professors alike.

“I’m waiting to hear the news that it’s actually been spotted,” Professor and Department Coordinator of Earth and Space Sciences Tom Bush said. “The gravitational evidence that’s there seems to be pretty solid (and) it looks like the planet is (a) pretty good size. Enough so (that) its gravity can influence the orbits of some of the debri out there in space and the Oort Cloud (the outermost reaches of the solar system).”

Currently astronomers are using the world’s largest telescope to try to spot the planet,and researchers believe Planet Nine will be spotted within the next five years, according to sciencemag.org.     

“The brightness of this new planet is gonna be right at the edge of what the telescopes can see because they’re gonna be so dim,” Hinds said. “Chances are it’s (Planet 9) black and cold. So you’ll be looking out into the black cold space and it’s gonna be black and cold.”

Planet Nine doesn’t seem to have the potential to alter astronomy and atmospheric science curriculum; the only influence it’ll probably have is a potential class discussion.

“(This discovery) tells me that potentially there’s a lot of things going on in the very peripheral parts of the solar system that we don’t know about,” Bush said. “There could be a lot of different things going on out there that have yet to be discovered. Who knows what that’ll be.”

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Armani Jackson
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Move over, Pluto: California researchers discover evidence of a ninth planet

by Armani Jackson time to read: 3 min
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