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Astronomers have been looking for our Solar System’s ninth planet since the 1840s. Finding it would be one of the biggest scientific discoveries of this century.
Now, there’s a small chance it might have actually been found.
Data from The Infrared Astronomical Satellite, a joint project between NASA and space agency from the UK and the Netherlands, has been re-examined by a British astronomer.
Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, who taught Queen guitarist Brian May at Imperial College London, took a look at the infra-red imagery collected by the satellite collected in the mid 1980s and has identified a potential object several times the size of our home planet orbiting out beyond Neptune.
That would put it in the super-earth range predicted for Planet 9 by astronomers.
The reason that scientists believe Planet 9 is out there in the first place is that the orbits of the outer planets seem to be distorted by an object with the mass of five to ten times that of the Earth.
But Professor Rowan-Robinson isn’t entirely convinced of his ground-breaking discovery himself.
He said: "Given the poor quality of the IRAS detections, at the very limit of the survey, and in a very difficult part of the sky for far infrared detections, the probability of the candidate being real is not overwhelming.
"However, given the great interest of the 'Planet Nine' hypothesis, it would be worthwhile to check whether an object with the proposed parameters and in the region of sky proposed, is inconsistent with the planetary ephemerides.”
Huge mysterious 'void' in space spotted by astronomers studying how stars are born
Konstantin Batygin, Assistant Professor of Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, is one of the scientists leading the hunt for the sun's elusive Ninth Planet
He told the Daily Star that we are likely to find Planet 9 by around 2030.
It’s a huge object, he says: “The best estimates we have at the moment put the mass of Planet Nine at about 5 earth masses. So it’s a Super-Earth or a Mini-Neptune.
“Intriguingly, planets in this mass-range are very common around other stars”.
But still we haven’t found it: Jakub Scholtz ,from Durham University, says that one explanation for the mystery could be that Planet 9 isn’t a planet at all, but a tiny, but ultra-dense black hole dating back to the earliest moments of the universe’s existence.
Clyde Tombaugh thought he’d found Planet 9 in 1930, but Pluto was later deemed to be too small to be a true planet and in 2006 it was eventually downgraded to a new category known as Trans Neptunian Objects. Sadly, Pluto’s life as a planet didn’t even last one of its own years – which are about 248 times as long as one of ours..
We’ve reached out to Professor Rowan-Robinson to get an update on what could be the biggest discovery in astronomy in decades, but we haven’t heard back yet. So, as far as we know, the search for Planet 9 is still on.
- Spaced Out
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