What's All The Fuss About Planet Nine: Just Another Planet Or Something Scientists Are Worried About?

10 April 2016, 4:48 am EDT By Milafel Dacanay Tech Times
Heard about Planet Nine? The theoretical planet is getting many astronomers all fired up trying to know what, where, and how it is, so here’s a guide for you.  ( Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) )

Aside from supermassive black holes and crude oil testing in space, astronomers and space enthusiasts are abuzz about Planet Nine. What exactly is it?

Here are a few things to know about this exciting discovery:

Who Discovered Planet Nine?

Planet Nine was first reported in January by Mike Brown, who interestingly was also the one who demoted Pluto, and Konstantin Batygin of Caltech, but the process of learning and investigating took them a number of years. In 2014, a post-doc student of Brown noticed that at least 13 objects in the Kuiper Belt, the section after Neptune that is the home of some icy objects, had a similar elliptical orbital feature, which may suggest that there might be a planet influencing them, and six of these orbits tend to point in the same physical space.

Is It A planet?

Planet is actually a very tricky term, and despite us calling at least eight of them as planets, there's no clear definition of what it is. In fact, until now, some experts don't believe Pluto should be called a dwarf planet.

However, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defines a planet as having a sufficient mass to achieve roundness, it orbits the sun, is not a satellite or a moon, and doesn't have any debris surrounding its orbit.

Planet Nine is described to be quite a massive planet as it has a mass that is equivalent to 10 times that of Earth, as much as 5,000 times as that of Pluto, and 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune, which means it will take this planet 10,000 to 20,000 years to complete its revolution. Nevertheless, its mass may be the reason why six objects in the belt seem to be attracted to it.

Where Is It found?

It's found in the "far edge of the solar system." A new paper about the planet calls it an interloper, which implies that it could have belonged into another orbit but was "ensnared" to that of our sun. The researchers stress that even our sun was formed from the grouping of as many as 10,000 stars, and knowing that a planet revolves around a star, it becomes possible that there are other planets out there, and at least one of them will end up in our sun's orbit.

Can we possibly live there?

There are a couple of conditions that have to be met before a human being can live in another planet. These include gravity and temperature.

Planet Nine is described to have an ice core made up of helium and hydrogen, which are two of the most common elements in the Universe. Temperature is believed to be 47 Kelvin, which may be very cold by human standards but actually warmer when compared to when it's heated by the sun alone. As for its gravity, it may have the same one as Earth, but again, it's very cold.

Can it destroy Earth?

There's a rumor going on about Planet Nine — that is, it has "destroyed" the Earth before, and it's bound to do it again. The planet is believed to be causing the major extinction events of our planet. This has already been debunked.

But Does This Planet Exist?

It's hard to say as all we have are pieces of evidence. Even the Caltech researchers were not able to see or observe this planet and instead used mathematical models to derive their theory. New Horizons is believed to be designed to travel as far as the Kuiper Belt, but it's unclear whether it can also obtain information about Planet Nine or if it may even reach it. NASA is also being cautious about it. However, the Caltech paper shows that the probability of this due to chance is 0.007 percent.

Galileo first built the first telescope in 1609, but the first planet to be observed using the instrument was Uranus in 1781, which means it took us almost 200 years to find other members of our solar system. That may seem a very long time, but also know that space exploration has racked up major achievements in only 30 years.

What does this all imply? It's still likely we can physically detect and observe it, but it may not have to be in our lifetime.

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