Could planet-size object beyond Pluto be solar system's 10th planet?
- Author: Carolyn Briggs Jun 24, 2017,
Jun 24, 2017, 6:58
The objects were found by researchers leading the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which is studying the region of space beyond Neptune.
According to the lead author of the study the most likely explanation behind this tilt is the presence of an unseen "planetary mass object" - something as massive as Mars. "According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured", she says. These KBO's act like spinning tops, Renu Malhotra, a planetary science professor at LPL claimed that if one has lots of spinning tops and gives them a nudge, their spin axes are going to be at different orientation, though on average they would be pointing to the local gravitational field for the earth. Objects in the Kuiper Belt orbit at an incline relative to the rest of the solar system. Their average plane, Volk and Malhotra discovered, is tilted away from the invariable plane by about eight degrees. Space.com points out that while this newly discovered object has yet to be actually be discovered, it is much too small and too close to Earth to be the hypothetical "Planet Nine".
That possible planet, whose reported mass is approximately 10 times that of Earth, had its existence recently called into question, however, with the release of a new study. The warped orbit of the most distant objects in the belt suggests there's a planetary body controlling it, the researchers posit.
As unfortunate as the news is for those who have been searching for evidence of Planet Nine, there's still some good news. Typically, unusual orbits like these can be explained by the gravitational influence of nearby planets, but there are no existing planets that could have caused this kind of tilt.
So why haven't we found it yet? The most likely place a planetary mass object could be hiding would be in the galactic plane, an area so densely packed with stars that solar system surveys tend to avoid it. That something might be something large and something heavy, Volk said. The bodies that piqued the astronomers' interest dwell in the outer reaches of the Kuiper belt.
"A passing star would draw all the "spinning tops" in one direction" if it got close enough, Malhotra said.
The University of Arizona researchers note that the "planetary mass object" has not been spotted in the Kuiper Belt yet, but believe that the under-construction Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will help find hidden worlds such as this one. Their Large Synoptic Telescope (LSST) which is now being under construction in Chile, will be the one to find them, researchers seem certain.