The idea of having a ninth planet is interesting but remains unproven, according to NASA.
It’s a stirring thought: a planet around 10 times bigger than Earth orbiting the sun, lurking somewhere in the vicinity beyond Neptune. But no actual planet has been discovered yet – and a NASA scientist cautioned against claiming its existence at this point.
“It is not, however, the detection of a new planet,” NASA director of planetary sciences Jim Green clarified in a video released by the space agency. “It’s too early to say with certainty that there is a so-called ‘Planet X’ out there.”
Planet 9 represents a theorized space body that, if it truly exists, is located somewhere around 20 times the distance of Neptune from the sun. Thus, it qualifies as part of the Kuiper Belt, a region of tiny, icy bodies. That region includes Pluto.
According to a paper published in the Jan. 20 issue of The Astronomical Journal, there is an explanation behind the clustering and alignment of six of the icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt: a massive planet.
Researchers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin from the California Institute of Technology analyzed existing data on the six Kuiper Belt objects and made simulations of their orbits. Based on their simulations, the continuing alignment could be attributed to the gravitational effects of a planet that is about 30 billion kilometers (18.6 billion miles) from the sun, or 200 times the sun-Earth distance.
Green said this new research fuel the interest in planetary exploration further. “It’s all about starting the process that could lead to an exciting result.”
Astronomers argued that if Planet 9 indeed exists, it should be quite easy to spot using telescopes that have detected other far-flung objects in the solar system. They urged gathering direct observational proof by scanning the sky where the planet is forecasted to be.
Zach Rinehart, a sophomore engineering student from Alpharetta in Georgia, added to the skepticism by saying there is “no solid evidence.”
“I would rather call Pluto a planet before calling this planet a reality,” he said in an interview.
The search, however, may turn something up – not necessarily a planet, but something that could be of great consequence in the study of the universe.
“My prediction is that the search will turn up something interesting, even if there is not a planet there,” said J. Scott Shaw, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Georgia.
Photo: Dmitri Boyarin | Flickr