The solar system is full of wonders. One intriguing mystery troubling the scientific community is whether a large, icy planet sits beyond the orbit of Neptune. Scientists have long argued there could be a ninth planet but a definite evidence is yet to be found. Critics assert that finding the planet is unrealistic. So, this hypothetical celestial body has been named “Planet Nine” by those who believe it exists. A new study by the US-based California Institute of Technology (Caltech) says if the planet is out there, it could be brighter, closer, and easier to find than previously thought.
Two Caltech astronomers — Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin — said in a research paper that if the unseen ninth planet is lurking out there in the outer edge of our cosmic neighbourhood, they know exactly where to look for it. They are the same people who announced in 2016 that they had evidence of a Planet Nine.
Now, the duo have produced a paper depicting a map showing where the planet should be. It should be noted that the map only lays out the possible orbit of the hypothetical planet and does not point out its exact location.
However, based on their calculations of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), Brown and Batygin have come up with some figures for Planet Nine. They estimate it to have a mass about six times that of Earth. This study puts Planet Nine closer to the Sun than originally thought. They believe its distance from the Sun is about 300 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
But why have we not been able to find it? The authors say observations so far have ruled out the closest options for Planet Nine. They say if the planet exists, it can be detected by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in the near future.
Brown also tweeted an image of the treasure map that helped the astronomers “learn about the orbit and mass of Planet Nine in a statistically meaningful way.”
Most research for locating a new planet is based on finding its gravitational pull on other planets. This was how Neptune was discovered when astronomers noticed that Uranus seemed to be tugged by an unseen planet. However, for Planet Nine, there's no effect of gravity on any other planet. What scientists have nonetheless found is an odd clustering of small icy bodies. These bodies are known as KBOs.
The astronomers studied all the known KBOs and found that many of these objects have eccentric orbits that they believe are being affected by a distant and massive planet – likely Planet Nine.