Remember when the solar system was simple? When did you learn to say My very simple method comes to speed up the naming of planets? The astronomers just had to go, is not it?
Now our solar system is littered with dwarf planets and comets posing as asteroids and moon moons of ridiculous sound, and we can not deal with them. Fortunately, the case of a ninth planet coming back on the list seems solid, and we may not have to wait long to see it.
We can blame astronomer Mike Brown of Caltech for taking a good part of this mess. If you were once a fan of Pluto, he is the man to whom you send your bottled tears for his role in his demotion to the composition of the planet.
But some of Brown's recent work might end up strangely compensating for the loss of Pluto. Since 2016, he has been gathering evidence of replacement of Planet Nine which will orbit somewhere further in the suburbs.
So why are we waiting so long? It's either there, or it's not there. Unfortunately, planetary hunting is no longer so simple. Astronomers could once satisfy their curiosity by tracking lightning bolts as they glided through the sky, like moths surrounding a campfire.
But what about insects in the dark, that creep silently away from the flames? Their location requires patience, detective work and many statistics.
Suspicions about the presence of the hidden planet were first raised when Brown and his colleagues noticed that piles of objects in the cold regions of the Kuiper belt were not sitting exactly where they should be.
There are several reasons why this might be the case. Maybe the expectations were wrong. Maybe their data on Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) contained errors. Or maybe … just maybe … there was an invisible mass moving their orbits.
In recent years, we have exchanged alternative explanations, one by one, in the hope that Planet Nine is the last hypothesis.
More recently, Brown worked with fellow astronomer Caltech, Konstantin Batygin, to develop a new method for determining the potential for bias in individual KBO measurements.
We can breathe a sigh of relief. Based on this new analysis, there is a 0.2% chance that clusters of tiny ice objects will cluster in this way, making it more likely that there will be a loss of alignment.
"Although this analysis does not say anything directly about whether Planet Nine is there, it does indicate that the hypothesis is based on a solid foundation," Brown said.
Working backwards suggests that "something" could definitely be called a planet. And then some.
Previously, it had been thought to have a mass about 10 times and a volume four times that of the Earth, with an orbit that took this hypothetical planet 75 times farther than Pluto.
Scratch it all. According to the latest estimates, Planet Nine is not so far away and is a little leaner than we thought. (Another beef cake, though.)
"With five land masses, Planet Nine will probably look a lot like a typical extrasolar super-Earth," Batygin said.
Thousands of computerized models have virtually equivalent to an urgent re-reading of the evolution of the solar system's edge, thus limiting its likely size and orbit.
Not only do we imagine it to be a Greasy Earth, but it may now follow an elliptical orbit that sees it venturing as far as 400 to 800 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun.
The orbit of Pluto oscillates between 30 and 50 AU. Therefore, even though we are still talking about a long trip in the wild and solar nature, this is not quite the scale that we had imagined. That said, the most distant object so far confirmed in the solar system is FarFarOut, at 140 AU.
Thus, the evidence of a new Planet Nine could be significant but remains largely circumstantial, until we can look far enough into the distance to see it.
"My favorite feature of Planet Nine's hypothesis is that it's verifiable by observation," says Batygin.
"Although the astronomical discovery of Planet Nine is a daunting challenge, I am very optimistic that we will be imagining it over the next decade."
Well, never too soon to start looking for a name. What about something that starts with the letter "P"?
This research was published in Physics reports and The astronomical journal.