Astronomers using the Subaru Telescope believe they have found evidence of a ninth planet in the solar system.
Astronomer Michael Brown and astrophysicist Konstantin Batygin, both professors at the California Institute of Technology, have, after years of observations, completed a study postulating that a new unknown planet may exist beyond the orbit of Neptune.
According to the study, which is to be published in a future edition of “The Astronomical Journal,” Brown and Batygin used the Subaru telescope on Maunakea to observe the movements of several objects in the Kuiper Belt, a band of various icy celestial objects. outside. from the orbit of Neptune.
Almost 20 years ago, some objects in the Kuiper Belt were found to have strange clustered orbits that could only be explained by some unknown massive object influencing them, although this does not necessarily suggest the existence of a ninth planet.
But in 2016 – 10 years after Brown’s research was used to downgrade the previous ninth planet, Pluto, to a dwarf planet – he announced that he believed there was a new planet about 10 times the size of Earth orbiting 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune.
Subaru astronomer Tsuyoshi Terai said Brown used Subaru’s Hyper Suprime-Cam, an extremely powerful wide-field digital camera, to take about 30 nights of observations between 2016 and 2019.
Although Terai said none of the sightings revealed Planet Nine, by tracking 11 more objects in the Kuiper Belt, Brown and Batygin are 99.6% confident that the strange movements of the objects are not the result. of a cosmic blow and are caused by a phenomenon never seen before. large object.
In addition, according to the study, the two researchers estimated the potential ranges of mass and orbital characteristics of the hypothetical planet to be 95% probability.
Based on the results of 121 simulations performed during the study, Brown and Batygin conclude that Planet Nine is most likely a gas giant with an icy, rocky core, and is about six times the mass of Earth. The simulations also predict, with a 95% probability, the region of the sky in which the planet is located.
Despite this, the planet has not been observed directly, and its existence remains a guess.
Brown and Batygin write that depending on the planet’s potential orbits and reflectivity, observing it directly might require dedicated research on telescopes 10 meters or larger.
Brown and Batygin also admit that the makeup of the planet may be very different from their predictions, which would have widely varying impacts on its detectability.
Terai said that confirming the existence of a ninth planet would have significant impacts on existing models of the formation of the solar system and raise questions such as how the planet formed in the first place, how it was formed. found herself so far from the Sun. , and how it has influenced the movements of other celestial objects over the eons.
Brown did not respond to requests for comment. However, he told National Geographic that he believes the ninth planet will be discovered soon.
“I think it’s a year or two after being found,” he said, before adding, “I’ve made this statement every year for the past five years. I am super optimistic.
Email Michael Brestovansky at [email protected]