Evidence of a Hidden Planet on the Edge of Our Solar System Mounts
Astronomers and physicists increasingly believe that there’s a hidden planet on the edge of the solar system, and a newly discovered dwarf planet furthers that believe.
Deep on the outer edges of our solar system, far beyond the orbit of Neptune, a hidden planet roughly 10 times the mass of Earth may be just waiting to be discovered. And a recently discovered dwarf planet may be instrumental in tracking it down.
For the last few years, astronomers and physicists have increasingly begun to accept that there’s a true ninth planet to the solar system (sorry, Pluto). No one has been able to find it yet and its orbit remains a mystery, but there is an abundance of evidence that something out there in the Kuiper Belt is manipulating gravity and that it is a fairly large planet. Last year, NASA announced that it firmly believes in a ninth planet, giving it even more credibility among researchers.
The latest piece of evidence is an object known as 2015 BP519, which researchers believe is roughly the size of a dwarf planet (it’s not completely conclusive that the object is a dwarf planet, but the evidence fits). The Kuiper Belt is potentially loaded with dwarf planets so in itself 2015 BP519 isn’t all that remarkable, but its orbit is. The dwarf planet orbits the sun at a 54-degree angle, which is very strange – unless there’s something else pulling at it.
The solar system is laid out like a disc with the sun at the center. There are, however, a few irregularities in that disc, including a slight tilt. The sun also spins at a slightly different angle than the rest of the objects in the solar system, and its axis is around 6-degrees off from the other planets. Over the years there have been several theories for why this is, from a passing star to the sun’s magnetic field, but the most likely reason is a ninth planet on the edge of the solar system slightly tugging at it. Finding dwarf planets also displaying the symptoms of gravitational pull from an unknown object furthers that belief.
Very little is known about the ninth planet, of course, but it is thought to be a cold, icy giant with a mass around 10 times that of Earth. It would also be very dark given its distance from the sun, making it even tougher to find. Oddly, objects like planet nine – massive, rocky bodies sometimes called “Super-Earths” (due to their physical makeup, not their potential for life) – are common in the universe. It’s almost odd that there isn’t one or more in our solar system.
The discovery of 2015 BP519 should help to narrow the search for the hidden planet, but there will need to be more, similar discoveries in order to help isolate where the planet is and what its orbit looks like. To further compound the difficulty, there may be more than one planet hiding in the Kuiper Belt. Regardless, the path forward is the same: map more objects.
“There are now five different lines of observational evidence pointing to the existence of Planet Nine,” said Konstantin Batygin, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology searching for the planet. “If you were to remove this explanation and imagine Planet Nine does not exist, then you generate more problems than you solve. All of a sudden, you have five different puzzles, and you must come up with five different theories to explain them.”
Despite all the evidence in favor of a ninth planet on the edge of the solar system, until it is discovered it will remain theoretical. A large planet is the most likely explanation for the gravitational anomalies seen throughout our solar system, but we just don’t know enough about the trans-Neptunian objects at the edge of our solar system. But assuming it is out there, it’s only a matter of time until the hidden planet is discovered.