Astronomers are figuring out where ‘Planet Nine’ could be hiding

Astronomers have looked back at possible places where the elusive, hypothetical Planet Nine could be hiding, if it even exists, and have redefined where to look.

Searching for planets orbiting other stars is a relatively simple task, compared to searching for Planet Nine, also known as Planet . Using this transit method, thousands of exoplanets have been discovered around other stars in recent years.

From our perspective, only Venus and Mercury pass by our host star, making this method useless for finding planets (and other objects) in our own solar system, and these two were visible to the naked eye anyway. Saturn, Jupiter and Mars were also found using the ‘look up and see a bright object’ method.

Uranus was found similarly in 1781 by astronomer William Herschel, after noticing that a bright object had moved compared to other stars in the study and taking a closer look. But Neptune was discovered in 1846 by astronomer and mathematician Urbain Le Verrier after he noticed a difference between the observed orbit of Uranus and the way Newtonian physics predicted its orbit. Le Verrier proposed that the difference could be explained by another planet outside Uranus, and made predictions about the orbit of this previously unknown body. While looking for that location, German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle found the planet Neptune.

The reason people are looking for a mysterious ninth planet in the first place is because in 2015, two Caltech astronomers presented evidence that six objects beyond Neptune’s orbit were bunched together in a way that suggested they were “driven” by something with a large surface area. gravity. Now the same team has pinpointed the location where they think the object – which they say is two to four times the radius of Earth – is located. Yet it remains elusive, with suggestions that it might even be a statistical anomaly and selection bias on behalf of Caltech astronomers.

In a new preprint paper submitted to The Astronomical Journal, the team used data from the Pan-STARRS1 survey to eliminate 78 percent of the potential places identified by previous research as places to look for the hypothetical planet. While this may sound disappointing – finding a new planet would be great news for all but the most die-hard Pluto fans – it does mean that they have been narrowed down to where to look if there is a planet to be found.

Areas of particular interest include the vicinity of the galactic plane, some of which will be covered by the upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory survey. Nevertheless, the team looked at reasons why the planet has not yet been found.

“One obvious possibility, of course, is that Planet Nine does not exist,” the team wrote in their paper. “Such an explanation would require new explanations for multiple phenomena observed in the outer solar system. Until such explanations are available, we continue to consider Planet Nine as the most likely hypothesis.”

Another option is that Planet Nine is further away and more massive than previously thought, making it harder to spot. For now, the team believes such a planet best explains the orbits of observed objects in the outer solar system.

‘The cluster of directions of the orbits is the best known, but there are also the large perihelion distances of many objects, the existence of highly inclined and even retrograde objects, and the large number of highly eccentric orbits that intersect within the orbit of the jobs. Neptune,” lead author Dr. Michael Brown told Universe Today. “None of these should happen in the solar system, but they are all easily explained as an effect of Planet Nine.”

The research is available on the pre-print server arXiv.

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