Could The ‘Ninth Planet’ Really Exist?

Later last week some of us were getting pretty excited about the possibility of a ninth planet.

Scientists make the claim based on the way other objects are seen to move. The proposed planet would have 10 times the mass of Earth, up to four times the size and thought to be gaseous, if scientists’ calculations are true.

87819538_p9_kbo_orbits_labeled_1_-1
Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

The object is thought to orbit 20 times farther from the Sun on average than the eighth planet, Neptune, which moves about 4.5 billion km out.

Its elliptical trajectory would mean it takes 10,000 – 20,000 years to orbit the sun.

To put things into perspective, here’s Sedna‘s orbit compared to some better known planets:

Sedna Orbit

That’s a long way out!

NASA director of planetary science, Jim Greene said the proposed existence of ‘Planet X’ was only ‘the start of a process that could lead to an exciting result’.

“It is not, however, the detection of a new planet. It’s too early to say with certainty if there’s a so-called Planet X out there. What we are seeing is an early prediction.”

This is exciting enough for me, a vast amount of our knowledge of space is based on theory and part of the beauty of space is that it is vastly unknown, isn’t it?

Although it has yet to be seen by scientists, it was located by watching some of the dwarf planets in the outer solar system leading to the conclusion that their orbits appear to be affected by something bigger.

“The most distant objects all swing out in one direction in a very strange way that shouldn’t happen, and we realised the only way we could get them to swing in one direction is if there is a massive planet, also very distant in the Solar System, keeping them in place while they all go around the Sun.” Said Dr. Mike Brown

“There are many telescopes on the Earth that actually have a chance of being able to find it…” said Dr Mike Brown.

“And I’m really hoping that as we announce this, people start a worldwide search to go find this ninth planet.” He continued.

Brown is somewhat of an expert in the study of far away objects having discovered Eris in the Kuiper Belt in 2005, famously (or infamously) leading to the demotion of Pluto from planet status to dwarf planet in 2006.

It didn’t take long for conspiracy theorists to mark this possible finding as another ‘end of the world’. Supposedly a ‘predicted’ sign of the impending apocalypse. Most of us space lovers have heard the words ‘Nibiru’ or ‘Planet X’ uttered at some point. Nibiru was meant to crash into our planet in the ‘Mayan apocalypse’ in 2012 and we all know how that went.

The conspiracy theorists still believe that Nibiru will one day pass Earth so closely that the gravitational pull would start huge earthquakes and spark volcanic activity across the globe.

Maybe one day we’ll end up looking like Io, the most geologically active object in the Solar System.

Left: Volcanic plumes observed by Voyager 2 on July 9, 1979 (© Calvin J. Hamilton)

Right: True Colour image taken by the Galileo spacecraft.

Io possesses two volcanic plumes that can shoot up about 62 miles high, six of the eight plumes seen by Voyager 1 were still erupting when Voyager 2 flew past four months later. The reason the plumes can reach such heights is down to the low gravity on Io (about 1/6th of Earth’s) and the lack of atmospheric pressure.

No thanks. Let’s hope that the conspiracy theorists are wrong again.

Nasa’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan told the BBC: “…we’ve identified lots of planets (beyond our Solar System) in this category of ‘super-Earth’ with our Kepler telescope; over 5,000 planet candidates. The fact that we don’t have a planet in that size class between Earth and Neptune makes us think, ‘well, maybe we are missing one’…”

Could all of this spark a search for a ninth planet? I hope so.

If you ask me, we already have a ninth planet; Pluto. Although it’s officially now a dwarf planet, in many people’s hearts it will always be a planet. Not to mention that our most recent photos show what may be perceived as a heart shaped surface.

01_-Pluto
Pluto: New Horizons/NASA

Poor Pluto.

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