According to Surhud More, an astronomer at the University of Tokyo, there could be a ninth planet lurking at the edge of our solar system:
“Every time we take a picture there is this possibility that Planet Nine exists in the shot.”
Stressing on the word “possibility,” astronomers rely only on circumstantial evidence, and believe that the hypothetical planet would hide far beyond Neptun.
Michael Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, is optimistic that one day, someone will find it. But there’s a catch: for now, Planet Nine could be invisible to our telescopes.
Undetected Planet Nine
Considering Pluto was deemed not worthy to be the ninth planet (and is now considered to be a dwarf planet), the one that would replace it only existed in theory. Then, in 2014, astronomers observed a bunch of mini ice-worlds at the edge of the solar system that followed the same path around the sun:
“If things are in the same orbit, then something’s pushing them,” said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, who discovered the planetoid.
Two years later, Brown and Konstantin Batygin stated that the “perturber” should weigh somewhere between 5 and 20 Earth masses and it could orbit the Sun at a distance of 1,000 times bigger than the one between Earth and the Sun.
Why cannot astronomers see the “perturber” that could be Planet number nine? At a distance 600 times the one between Earth and the sun (which is 600 astronomical units – AU), the planet would be dimmer than Neptune – 160,000 times fainter, to be more specific.
An astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, Kevin Luhman, puts it into very simple words:
“There’s really a brick wall, basically, at 1,000 AU.”
But astronomers were optimistic and agreed to look for the planet with a different method: millimeter telescopes. Unfortunately, the telescopes from Antarctica and Chile were mapping the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the light left from the beginning of the universe and could not stray from its purpose.
The Next Generation CMB Experiment will be able to pick Planet Nine and small planets like Earth at a larger distance (1,000 AU), explains Gilbert Holder, a cosmologist at the University of Illinois:
“There would be nowhere for Planet Nine to hide once this thing was turned on.”
This could mean over ten years in the future. Until then, many people will still wonder if there really is a Planet Nine lurking at the edge of our solar system.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.