A Newly Discovered Planet 9

Jennifer Liu

In 2006, Pluto was demoted from the shiny golden title of “planet” to the slightly lower position of “dwarf planet.”

In other words, he was politely kicked out of the real-planet squad, and a rather large crowd of people were reasonably upset. However, Caltech astronomer Michael Brown and Caltech planetary scientist Konstantin Batygin have recently released promising evidence hinting at the existence of a new planet to replace Pluto, a planet lurking at the distant edges of our beloved solar system.

Deemed the temporary name “Planet 9,” this new discovery is reported to be around 10 times the mass of Earth, and very similar in size to Neptune. Making one entire orbit around the sun would take it a full 10,000 to 20,000 years in total.

Although nobody has spotted the planet directly and no guarantee has been made for the planet’s existence, mathematical modeling and computer simulations have certainly provided ample evidence. Six of the furthest objects in the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy debris beyond Neptune, were discovered to bear similar resemblance in orbit, all pointing towards the same direction in physical space. Not only that, the objects were also tilted in a similar fashion, resulting in a situation that would only happen through coincidence at a probability rate of 0.007%. Brown and Batygin came to the conclusion that a large planet at the center, acting as a gravitational force, must be the culprit; and from there, Planet 9 was born.

In terms of determining the exact location, one telescope can definitely help. Subaru, an 8 foot long telescope in Hawaii, is capable of detecting an object so faint, especially if the planet is at its furthest location in orbit. And if Planet 9 is anywhere in between, many other telescopes also have a likely shot at finding it.

Although a solid discovery of the planet itself has not yet been achieved, and work is still being conducted regarding this subject matter, Planet 9 continuously remains an exciting milestone for both astronomy and everyday life.