No, it’s not the fateful return of beloved Pluto as a member of our solar family unit, but rather an entirely new cosmic, icy body thought to be floating just beyond Neptune (“just” is a relative term for many millions of miles). But if the story of our very own Disney-inspired ex-planet is anything to be cautious about, then should we really be celebrating so quickly?
Back in January, Caltech University Planetary Astronomer Mike Brown, (the same Mike Brown that led the charge to have Pluto demoted to dwarf planet status) announced that he’d just found evidence that a huge, icy planet could be lurking on the edge of the Solar System.
He estimated the hypothetical ‘Planet Nine’ appears to be circling the Sun on a super-elongated orbit that takes an insane 10,000 to 20,000 years to complete. And now, thanks to a newly detected Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) that’s acting awfully strangely, Brown says the case for Planet Nine just got a whole lot stronger.
“We saw a strange signal in the data that meant something odd was going on in the outer Solar System,” Brown told Ian Sample at The Guardian. “All of these distant objects were lined up in a weird way and that shouldn’t happen. We worked through the mundane explanations, but none of them worked out.”
The logic says that something as large as Planet Nine—which is estimated to be 10 times more massive than Earth and four times the size—exists within a relatively busy patch of the Universe, you’d expect to see its considerable gravitational forces affect the smaller things floating around nearby, and that’s exactly what Brown and his colleagues claim to have been identifying.
A total of six KBO’s were identified as lining up strangely, and now a seventh KBO has been added to the list.
As Loren Grush reports for The Verge, this seventh KBO appears to have been pushed into a strange orbit by some great force nearby, about 149 billion km from the Sun, which is where Planet Nine is expected to be located.
That’s 75 times farther than Pluto.
“Hey Planet Nine fans, a new eccentric KBO was discovered. And it is exactly where Planet Nine says it should be,” Brown tweeted over the weekend.
This newest object, discovered by researchers using the Canada France Hawaii Telescope to conduct the massive Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), is just another link (or kink depending on your outlook) for the argument of Planet Nine, but there is very little evidence other than strange orbits to suggest as such.
Mike Brown isn’t giving up on this new planet but remember that when it comes to astronomers, nothing is set in stone until that stone can be traced, measured and weighed.