The hypothesised ‘Planet Nine’, which is believed to exist beyond Pluto, may have tilted the entire solar system, astronomers believe.
Earlier this year, scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) announced that a planet ten times the mass of Earth probably exists around 19 billion miles away. It was shown to exert such a huge influence on its region of space that it was dubbed ‘the most planety of all planets.’
Now the same team believes ‘Planet Nine’ is also responsible for one of the biggest mysteries in astronomy – why the solar system lies on a strange tilt.
All of the planets, including Earth, orbit in a flat plane with respect to the Sun. But that plane rotates on a six-degree angle with respect to the Sun’s equator, a misalignment which has left astronomers scratching their heads for decades.
“It’s such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don’t talk about it,” said Prof Mike Brown, who made the original discovery about Planet Nine.
But now scientists think that the highly tilted orbit of Planet Nine could be responsible. Based on calculations, the huge planet appears to orbit at about 30 degrees off from the other planets’ orbital plane which is likely to add a ‘wobble’ to the solar system.
Mathematically, given the hypothesized size and distance of Planet Nine, a six-degree tilt fits perfectly into models of the solar system, said Prof Brown.
Elizabeth Bailey, a graduate student at Caltech and lead author of the study added: “Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment.”
Not only does the finding clear up the mystery of the solar system’s tilt but it provides greater evidence that Planet Nine actually exists.
“It continues to amaze us,” said Dr Konstantin Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech.
“Every time we look carefully we continue to find that Planet Nine explains something about the solar system that had long been a mystery.”
Prof Brown and Dr Batygin ‘discovered’ Planet Nine , after noticing that 13 objects in the Kuiper Belt – an area beyond Pluto – were all moving together as if being ‘lassooed’ by the gravity of a huge object.
Scientists thought that objects in the belt, a vast region of dwarf planets and icy rocks populating the fringes of our solar system were only influenced by the gravitational pull of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. However they found some objects were clearly being pulled by another body – Planet Nine.
Planet Nine takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the Sun and it would take 20 years to send a probe to find out if the planet actually exists. However it could be spotted from Earth using the world’s largest telescopes – such as the twin 10-metre telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Subaru Telescope, all on Maunakea in Hawaii.
If the planet happens to be close to its perihelion – its nearest point to the Sun – astronomers might also be able to spot it on previous surveys.
A new study by the University of Arizona also pointed to more evidence that Planet Nine exists.
They discovered that four more objects in the Kuiper Belt are probably being moved around by the planet’s huge gravitational pull.
Prof Renu Malhotra, of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab, said: “”We analysed the data of these most distant Kuiper Belt objects and noticed something peculiar, suggesting they were in some kind of resonances with an unseen planet.”
Pluto used to be regarded as the ninth planet but was downgraded in 2006 to a dwarf-planet or ‘plutoid’ and is now known unceremoniously as ‘asteroid number 134340.’
Both are being presented at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting in California.
H/t reader squodgy:
“It’s been a bit quiet recently, but for the DT to push it out with waffle about 6? tilt of entire solar system plane, and an orbit 30? to that plane plus acknowledgement of a mass 10times ours, I think maybe some of the scaremongers might have a point, we just might be in for a wobble, three days of darkness, pole-shift, food shortages etc, at least it will enable the PTB parasites to blame it all on something else & slide Hillary into power.