From the beginning of time, humans have been fascinated with the splendor of the night sky. But even after thousands of year of humans studying astronomy, modern astronomers may have just now discovered the existence of a ninth planet in the solar system.
Mike Brown, a researcher at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and fellow researchers have been gathering mounting evidence for the existence of another massive planet in the solar system. Interestingly, Brown is the same man who led the push to demote Pluto from a true planet to a dwarf planet. However, he looks to bring the count of planets orbiting the sun back up to nine with this new discovery. This planet is believed to be slightly smaller the Neptune, or around ten times larger than Earth.
According to Caltech, researchers have found evidence of an enormous gravitational pull that could only be caused by a planet. Another planet in the solar system would also explain the unusual orbit patterns of the current eight planets. However, astronomers are awaiting confirmation of this planet because of one fundamental problem; nobody has actually seen the planet.
In an interview with New York Times, Brown said, “We have pretty good constraints on its orbit. What we don’t know is where it is in its orbit, which is too bad.”
There are many obstacles to spotting this planet, Dr. Michal Novak, a professor of religion at Saint Leo University explained.
“This planet would be an enormous distant from us and very little light will reflect back to earth,” said Novak. “The planet is believed to be on a different plane than our other planets with an irregular orbit, and with that vast distance in space, it is extremely difficult to spot a moving target.”
One reason for the difficulty in actually seeing this new planet is the staggering 20 to a 100 billion miles distance from the sun, depending on its place in its orbit, according to a Caltech report. This is quite a difference from the 91.5 million mile distance that the Earth is from the Sun today. With this great distance from the Sun, it would take over 10,000 years to make a full orbit. This provides a challenge through the incredibly vast distance in space in which scientists must search.
So while it may be a slow process, Planet Nine is almost certainly out there, and with telescopes pointed to the sky in a thrilling search for Planet Nine, it can be assured that its discovery will not be long coming. Once it is found, it is only the beginning of the fascinating journey to discover more about the properties of this mysterious and elusive planet. As reported by CNN, Alessandro Morbidelli of the Côte d’Azur Observatory in France said, “I think the chase is now on to find this planet.”
According Novak, this discovery is important to humanity as a whole because of the “pure joy of science exploration and discovery, and after all, knowledge itself is a worthwhile goal.”
Novak added, “It is possible that earth is a seed which is going to be the root of what will one day turn into a garden of humanity throughout space, and discovering the outermost space in our own solar system (where Planet 9 orbits) could be the beginning.”