a closeup of planet nine

a closeup of planet nine

Planet Nine might be a trick of the light. According to the findings of a new study, what appeared to be evidence for a giant planet lurking of the solar system may have been a trick of the light. 

Planet Nine

Planet Nine’s Kevin Napier adds, “We can’t rule that out.” 

Previous research showed that several distant objects in the solar system gather together in the sky as if shepherded by a substantially invisible planet. That planet’s mass would have to be at least ten times that of Earth. Astronomers named the unseen world Planet Nine or Planet X.

A recent study of 14 of those distant bodies reveals no indication of such clustering. The analysis debunks the fundamental rationale for believing in Planet Nine. Napier and his colleagues published their findings on arXiv.org on February 10. The Planetary Science Journal publishes the study later this year.

Chad Trujillo is a Flagstaff-based astronomer at Northern Arizona University. Scott Sheppard is an astronomer at Washington, D.C.’s Carnegie Institution for Science. They reignited interest in the notion of a distant planet hiding far beyond Neptune in 2014. They observed a cluster of faraway planets with unusually bunched-up orbits at the boundary of our solar system at the time. These far-off bodies are known as trans-Neptunian objects. 

Seeing The Solar System

Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, planetary scientists, published new results in 2016. They are employed at Caltech in Pasadena, California. This team utilized six trans-Neptunian objects to narrow down the probable characteristics of Planet Nine. They anchored it to an orbit 500 to 600 times further from the sun than Earth’s. 

Those previous investigations, however, were all based on a small number of items. According to Gary Bernstein, those items may not have represented everything that exists. He works with Napier as an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The objects may have appeared in specific areas of the sky simply because that is where scientists were searching for planets. 

“It’s critical to understand what you couldn’t see as well as what you did see,” he adds. 

Napier, Bernstein, and their colleagues utilized data from three planetary polls to account for this uncertainty. They went with the original, which Sheppard and Trujillo operated. They supplemented this with the Dark Energy Survey and the Outer Solar System Origins Survey. It provided them 14 trans-Neptunian objects to investigate in all. They are all between 233 and 1,560 times the distance from the sun than Earth is. 

The researchers next performed computer simulations of around 10 billion fictitious trans-Neptunian objects. Still not planets, mind you. These were strewn over the sky at random. This enabled the researchers to determine if the locations of the 14 known items corresponded to what the surveys should observe. They did. 

“It appears that we just find stuff wherever we look,” Napier adds. Consider what would happen if you misplaced your keys late at night. You could look for them under a street lamp, not because you think they’re there, but because that’s where the light is. The current study focuses primarily on street lights.