Is There a Tenth Planet Lurking at the Edge of Our Solar System?

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-24 19:38

An artist's impression of the mysterious planetary body.
[Image by Heather Roper/LPL]

Astronomers have noticed evidence of what may be a tenth planet orbiting our sun.

Is this planet, if it does exist, indeed the tenth one in our solar system? It actually depends on who you're talking to and what they're counting. To some, this mysterious new planet is the ninth in our solar system, not the tenth. However, its place in the numbering of planets isn't really what's important right now. After all, no one is sure if the planet even exists in the first place.

All we know for sure right now is that there are indications that there may be a large planetary body roaming around where we can't see it just yet. According to a new study, calculations reveal that something as massive as Mars may be the cause of some disruptions elsewhere in our solar system.

Signs of a Tenth Planet

The Kuiper Belt stretches far out beyond Neptune's orbit.
[Image by Space Facts/Laurine Moreau]

Observers noticed something weird going on in the dark outer reaches of the solar system. It seems that something is disrupting the orbits of small rocky bodies in the Kuiper Belt. Researcher Renu Malhotra describes the distortion like this: “Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge. If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.”

The Kuiper Belt is a region that begins past Neptune. Multiply the distance of the Earth from the sun by 55, and that's how far the Kuiper Belt goes before it ends. Scientists have been discovering more and more Kuiper Belt residents, a number of which are the size of Pluto.

Denizens of the Kuiper Belt are quite interesting. Planet Earth and all the other known planets in our solar system orbit the sun on the same plane. However, objects in the Kuiper Belt orbit the sun at different angles relative to this plane. This is because they're far enough away and the gravitational field of our solar system's planets do not affect them.

It's easy enough for astronomers to predict the path of the Kuiper Belt objects. However, if the objects deviate from the predicted paths, it's likely that there's something out there influencing distortions in their orbit. Scientists calculate that a tenth planet about the size of Mars is likely lurking around where we can't see it just yet.

The Truth in Calculations

There are so many things we have yet to discover about our solar system.
[Photo by NASA/JPL]

However, if there's a new planet out there, why haven't we seen it? After all, astronomers can detect and confirm the presence of planets far out of our solar system. Why can't they detect one that's so much nearer?

It's possible that light from the galactic center is obscuring our view of the tenth planet. Of course, it's also possible that there is no unknown planet out there, and something else may be causing distortions in Kuiper Belt orbits. However, math doesn't lie, and it's highly likely that astronomers are on the trail of a new planet.

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