The New Horizons probe, which captured amazing photos during its flyby of Pluto and one of its moons in July, is set to explore Kuiper belt. The mission could eventually confirm the existence of the mysterious Planet X that some scientists believe may exist somewhere in this region.
Astronomer Scott Sheppard, from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said that about 1,500 icy bodies have so far been detected in the Kuiper belt with some of these big enough to qualify as a dwarf planet.
Sheppard noted that there may also be something bigger lurking in the region as there are hints of a possible planet that is bigger than Pluto and possibly bigger than the Earth.
In a report published in the journal Nature in 2014, Sheppard and Chad Trujill, from the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, compiled evidence that suggests there could be a massive perturber or a large gravitationally disturbing object that lurks at the outer Solar System.
"A massive object or great disturber would perturb or disturb anything that came close to it. So objects that stay away from the great disturber would be the most stable objects," Sheppard explained. "Thus the great disturber can "shepherd" objects into similar types of orbits with similar arguments of perihelion which are the orbits which constantly keep the smaller objects away from the bigger object."
Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, first proposed the idea of Planet X. He believes that Uranus' unique orbit was being affected by a large object found at the edges of the Solar System.
Astronomers said that searching for planet X has been difficult because of the potential planet's distance from the Earth and because it does not produce its own light.
Although many astronomers agree that the planet does not exist, the idea of its existence was revived by a small number of scientists trying to find an explanation for the anomalies that were observed in the outer Solar system.
Planet X has long been a staple of legends. One conspiracy theory claims that NASA embarked on the New Horizons project two years after the publication of a 1998 study that revealed the existence and location of the then postulated tenth planet.
Conspiracy theorists claim that the New Horizon's final destination is Planet X but the U.S. space agency pretended that the probe's destinations are Pluto and the Kuiper belt.
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