The scientific world is abuzz with news that a planet bigger than our Earth is circling the sun far beyond the orbit of Pluto.
Is there a 9th planet in our solar system after all?
Michael Brown, the astronomer at Caltech who led the effort back in 2006 that ultimately resulted in Pluto losing its planet status, may have just found a replacement, according to a TIME report.
Brown has relesed a paper along with Caltech planetary scientists Konstantin Batygin that asserts that there is a strong likelihood that somewhere out there, at least 20 billion miles from us — Pluto is about 4.6 billion miles from us — is a large planet circling our sun.
Brown said it’s the first time in 150 years that there has been real evidence that at least one more planet in our solar system is out there, waiting to be discovered.
Nobody has directly observed this planet, hence why it hasn’t been confirmed. Instead, the scientists are basing their conclusions on some strange gravitational influences on other objects, such as Kuiper Belt object Sedna. Sedna, an icy, rocky object much like Pluto, was moving in orbit around the sun at a distance and angle that was very similar to five other Kuiper Belt objects — almost perfectly similar in their orbits.
There is an estimated 0.007 percent likelihood of such a thing be a coincidence, meaning that some large, distant object is likely affecting their orbits, something that is herding the KBOs together into similar orbits, just like Saturn’s moons help position the particles in the planet’s famous rings.
So Brown and Batygin turned to computer simulations and models to determined that an unobserved planet must be herding the KBOs, and this planet is probably huge, at least compared to us: it would be an estimated 10 times the mass of Earth.
There will be many things to learn about this planet, but in the meantime, scientists will be working hard to actually observe it. Because it is so distant from the sun, its orbit must take very long, and scientists have no idea where it is in its orbit. They’ll have to scan a large portion of sky with very powerful telescopes, like looking for a needle in a haystack, so it could be years before it is found.
However, it’s an incredibly important discovery that could change how we understand the solar system forever.