The Search for Planet 9 – New Evidence Found on the Mysterious Planet


In recent years, we often extend our
focus to what lies beyond the solar system. After the Voyager probes did
their flyby of the gas giants, astronomers thought that they had found
everything that existed in our local system. Though he can see billions of
light years into space, there is still objects hidden from view right under our
noses. The Kuiper Belt, the ring of objects beyond Neptune, had been
predicted to exist in 1951 but was only proven in 1992. Something that appeared
close against the background of stars actually took 40 years to find. But
beyond the belt could lie an even larger object. Planet 9 also known as Planet X,
is a mysterious object that has been discussed for centuries, after the
discovery of Neptune. If there are eight planets then why not more? Why can’t
there be more planets out there waiting to be found? The answers may not be found
in Planet 9 but other objects that lie beyond the solar system. So let’s begin
the search for planet 9. Perhaps one of the most important
discoveries in astronomy was the planet Neptune. Though it is not every day that
you discover a new planet in the solar system, it was important for a different
reason. It wasn’t actually discovered but
predicted. How did they do this? Uranus was the key. Analysis of Uranus’s orbit
showed that there was a discrepancy between its predicted position and its
actual position. Astronomers concluded that a large celestial body must be
pulling Uranus from its usual orbit around the Sun and that it could only
have been a planet, nothing else was big enough. Using this technique in 1846,
astronomers Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams both independently predicted
where the planet should be and within a single night, it was found. What if
this could be used to find more planets? The first exoplanet was discovered using
a similar procedure by observing the gravitational effect on its host star.
This is known as the radial velocity method. As the planet orbits the star, it
pulls on it slightly, causing the star to wobble around in a circle. By detecting
the slight Doppler shifts as the star moves, astronomers can work out if there
is an exoplanet in that system and how much force it is exerting on the
star. Now you’re probably thinking how does discovering Neptune and exoplanets
have anything to do with planet 9? Well these two situations both show how a
planet can be found without actually seeing it through a telescope.
Astronomers can locate planets based on their gravitational effects on the other
known objects in the area that have already been discovered. They can then
work backwards and search the skies in the general location where the planet
should be. So how does this relate to Planet 9? Recently, scientists found
something strange in the Kuiper Belt. Six small objects known as extreme
trans-neptunian objects or eTNOs could hold the key to finding planet 9. These
objects are ridiculously far out and take around four thousand years to orbit
the Sun. These orbits all follow a similar pattern. They orbit in the same
plane and their orbits are tilted 20 degrees relative to the solar
system. Not only that, they are highly elliptical and they all orbit in the
same direction. Computer simulations tell us that there is only a 0.007% percent chance of this happening or one in a hundred and forty
thousand. There is actually a greater chance of the astronomers data being
wrong then for these six objects to line up. This led scientists back to the
only possible explanation; that there is a mysterious planet pulling all of these
objects onto a similar course. So here’s what we know about Planet 9, if it
exists. The planet orbits on the opposite side
of the solar system to the clustered eTNOs. and has a highly elliptical orbit.
This orbit is around 400 to 800 astronomical units from the Sun. An
astronomical unit is the distance that Earth orbits the Sun or 150 million
kilometers. For another reference, this planet orbits at least 13 times that of
Neptune’s orbit and takes the planet up to 20,000 years to complete. Its orbit
would be 15 to 25 degrees to the plane of Earth’s orbit, similar to the other eTNOs. Its diameter is about 2 to 4 times that of Earth’s or about 30,000
kilometers wide, which would make it the fifth largest planet in the solar system
between Earth and Neptune. These values have been attained from the data that
the clustered objects gave us and are only rough estimates. Much like the
technique used to discover Neptune and exoplanets, the tactics being used to
find planet 9 actually involve observing its gravitational effects on other
bodies. But that isn’t really satisfying. We usually don’t think something’s real
until we’ve seen it for ourselves. The problem is that Planet 9 would be
extremely dim against the background of stars and unless we knew precisely where
it was in the sky, it would be a struggle to identify. Because of its orbit, it
could well be beyond the solar system and might not return for thousands of
years. Another way of observing the planet is through the radiation that it
emits. This radiation probably consist of microwaves and infrared waves so
could more easily be seen through telescopes sensitive to these
wavelengths. The upcoming James Webb Telescope which is planned to be
launched in 2021 will probably be able to find the dim radiation that is
emitted from the planet. What amazes me about planet 9 is how elusive it is.
Though the planet should be easily found based on the general location like
Neptune was, this isn’t the case. Our modern technology can find distant
galaxies, take pictures of black holes and detect even the smallest of
radiation burst but is not able to find a planet within our own solar system. The
sheer distance that planet 9 orbits at is just too far and we won’t be able to
find it unless we know its exact location. Although planet 9 has not
been proven to exist, I believe there is a good chance it does.
Given the minute chance that those objects could orbit on a similar path is
proof enough that something is out there, waiting to be found. So the search for
Planet 9 will continue well into the future.

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