A team of French scientists narrowed down the location of our solar system's ninth planet using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The estimated position was determined using a mathematical model that analyzed the effect on the behavior of known planets that it flies nearby.
The ninth planet is believed to circle the sun in an elongated oval loop. When at its supposed farthest, any effect on the known planets would become unobservable. This limited the search zone to just half of its total orbit from two zones of the possible areas.
"We have cut the work in half," said Jacques Laskar, the team lead from the Paris Observatory.
In January, astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin announced the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. The so-called Planet Nine is believed to be 10 times bigger than planet Earth.
Brown and Batygin detected six Kuiper Belt Objects or KBOs that point to one direction while following elliptical orbits. KBOs are small icy bodies - roughly the size of Pluto or even smaller - that orbit the sun along the Kuiper belt.
The two scientists found their distribution interesting, later finding out that the six KBOs are titled in the same way. They speculated that something else is shaping the KBOs' orbits. Their theory is that a ninth planet is present in our solar system's edges.
The search zone can be narrowed down further if Cassini's mission will extend to 2020, said Laskar and team. Scientists expect that it would be long before Planet Nine will finally be located, given that it really exists. Moreover, it would take a large, powerful telescope to search for it given its massive orbit.
Through the years, mathematical models predicted the existence of other planets, but in most cases the math was wrong. At best, it's predicted the existence of planet Neptune based on Uranus' gravitational pull.
The research was published in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal.
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