While pluto hasn’t been considered a real planet for nearly a decade, astronomers think they might have found its planetary replacement.
The evidence is explained by two scientists from the California Institute of Technology in this month’s Astronomical Journal. Scientists started looking into the possibility of a new planet after observing an unexpected clustering of objects in the Kuiper Belt – where Pluto resides. All signs point to their theory being correct, aside from a 0.007% chance the clustering is all just a coincidence.
Their theory suggests the existence of a ninth planet with a mass 10 times the size of Earth, roughly the size of Neptune, that takes anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit around the sun. It is up to 75 times farther from the sun than Pluto.
“The primary purpose of this study has been to identify a physical mechanism that can generate and maintain the peculiar clustering of orbital elements in the remote outskirts of the solar system. Here, we have proposed that the process of resonant coupling with a distant, planetary mass companion can explain the available data,” the Caltech team reports in their article, published Wednesday.
Dr. Michael E. Brown, one of the scientists on this case and who also found Pluto was not actually a planet as previously believed, says his “jaw hit the floor” when they put the dots together.
“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown. “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.”
The astronomers don’t yet know where this planet could be, but expect their research will cause a flurry of activity in the scientific community hoping to find the planet and prove their theory, something that Brown encourages.
“I would love to find it. But I’d also be perfectly happy if someone else found it. That is why we’re publishing this paper. We hope that other people are going to get inspired and start searching,” he said.
The discovery, if proven, would mean the solar system once again has nine planets.