Researchers from the California Institute of Technology have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The newly discovered world, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, is extimated to be 10 times more massive than earth and 4 times its size. It orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). It would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun.
The possible new planet has not yet been observed directly but Caltech researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations.
"This would be a real ninth planet," says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy. "There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It's a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that's still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting."
Batygin and Brown published their findings in the current issue of the Astronomical Journal and show how Planet Nine helps explain a number of mysterious features of the field of icy objects and debris beyond Neptune known as the Kuiper Belt.
"Although we were initially quite skeptical that this planet could exist, as we continued to investigate its orbit and what it would mean for the outer solar system, we become increasingly convinced that it is out there," says Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science. "For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system's planetary census is incomplete."
Brown, well known for the significant role he played in the demotion of Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet adds, "All those people who are mad that Pluto is no longer a planet can be thrilled to know that there is a real planet out there still to be found," he says. "Now we can go and find this planet and make the solar system have nine planets once again."
The paper is titled "Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System."
Source: Caltech press release