It is still considered a theory: But renowned US astronomers are convinced that there is a ninth planet in the solar system. Now they have found new clues on Planet 9.
Suddenly Pluto was gone. In any case, he was no longer in the exclusive ranks of the nine planets orbiting the sun. Since August 24, 2006, Pluto is officially no longer a planet, just a dwarf planet. No more planet 9.
What is a planet
At that time, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined what a planet actually was. The predicate planet is only given to a celestial body, the
- … circles around the sun
- … has so much mass that it was pressed into an almost spherical shape by its own gravity
- … has cleared its orbit area from other bodies
Planet 9: Astronomers have new clues
Pluto failed at the third point: It is so small that it neither swallowed other objects in its orbit by gravity, nor hurled them into the orbit of neighboring celestial bodies.
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So only eight planets left? Many astronomers are sure that there must still be a ninth planet in the solar system. New research results by US astronomers Michael E. Brown and Konstantin Batygin from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now caused a sensation. Brown has been convinced for years: There is planet 9. This is not without a certain irony: Because Brown was involved in the discovery of the dwarf planet Eris – which ultimately led to the new planet definition by the IAU and the degradation of Pluto.
Now the researchers have found mathematical evidence that suggests Planet 9 may be deep in the solar system.
Planet 9 could explain unique orbits
The existence of Planet 9 is still a hypothesis for which there are numerous indications. “The possibility of a new planet is exciting for me as a planetary scientist and for all of us,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division of the US space agency NASA. “However, this is not the discovery or discovery of a new planet. It is too early to be able to say for sure that there is a so-called Planet X. What we see is an early prediction based on models from limited observations. It is the beginning of a process that could lead to an exciting result. “
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The Caltech researchers’ mathematical proofs involve unique orbits of at least five objects in what is known as the Kuiper Belt, a vast region full of ice debris and other celestial bodies far beyond Neptune’s orbit. According to astronomers’ calculations, a ninth planet could explain these unusual orbits.
20,000 years for an orbit
The Caltech scientists believe that Planet 9 has about ten times the mass of Earth and could be similar in size to Uranus or Neptune. The calculated orbit is about 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune, which in turn orbits the Sun at an average distance of 4.5 billion kilometers. Planet 9 therefore needs 10,000 to 20,000 years before it has completely orbited the sun.
The largest telescopes in the world
To narrow down where Planet 9 could be, the researchers also use the ZTF (Zwicky Transient Facility) sky survey database at the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. Among other things, the ZTF looks for objects that change their position quickly, such as comets or asteroids. The ZTF has been active for three years, and since then it has discovered 13 million objects. Searching for a distant planet in this data is extremely difficult because objects in the solar system travel complicated orbits from Earth’s perspective. “The good news is that we found a cool trick to make the search more efficient,” explains Michael Brown on his blog “Findplanetnine”. With the help of computer simulations, the scientists converted so that they show how the objects would be seen from the point of view of the sun. Viewed from there, the movements are much simpler and correspond to wide circular paths.
Dates narrow area for Planet 9
The researchers have not yet found the ninth planet. But: the astronomers had already calculated the orbits in which planet 9 would have to orbit the sun. The researchers added 100,000 simulated orbits to their ZTF data. On the basis of this, they analyzed how many of these orbits they could find what they were looking for. The result: 56 percent would have been found, but 44 percent of the railways could not be found with the ZTF. The one in which Planet 9 could be is at least limited.