The Dwarf Planet “Goblin” May Lead to Planet X
A newly discovered dwarf planet on the far edge of the solar system may help astronomers discover the mysterious Planet X.
One day in the near future, the solar system may jump back to nine planets, even as Pluto remains on the outside looking in. For the last few years, evidence of another planet, a massive planet far beyond the orbit of Pluto, has mounted. A recent discovery of another mysterious object may help astronomers zero in on the mysterious “Planet X.”
While searching for Planet X on the edges of our solar system, a group of researchers spotted a previously undiscovered dwarf planet. It’s small, even by dwarf planet standards, and takes around 40,000 years to orbit the sun. It’s about 2½ times farther from the sun than from Pluto, which makes it one of the most remote and desolate objects still within the gravitational pull of our sun.
Finding any new planet in our solar system – even a dwarf planet – is a remarkable discovery. But this dwarf planet may carry extra significance, as it could help to locate Planet X.
“I think we are nearing the 90% likelihood of Planet X being real with this discovery,” said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science and one of the team members behind the discovery.
Meet The Goblin
The dwarf planet is officially known by the dry and clinical classification 2015 TG387, but it has another name: “The Goblin.” It earned that moniker due to its discovery back in 2015 during the month of October close to Halloween, and ya know, it’s kind of cool.
Not much is known about The Goblin. Its discoverers believe that it is part of the Oort Cloud, a bubble found far, far beyond Pluto that marks the outer edge of our solar system. The Oort Cloud is thought to contain trillions of icy bodies and may be the source of all the long term comets that pass through our system.
The Goblin has the largest orbit of all the distant known objects that exist beyond Pluto. Part of the reason it took three years to verify is that its orbit is so massive and elongated that it was difficult to confirm. And to make it more of a challenge, it never comes close enough to the gas giants in the solar system to be affected by their gravities.
“We think there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the Solar System’s fringes, but their distance makes finding them very difficult,” the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen, another member of the team that discovered the dwarf planet said in a statement. “Currently we would only detect 2015 TG387 when it is near its closest approach to the Sun. For some 99 percent of its 40,000-year orbit, it would be too faint to see.”
On the Trail of Planet X
Goblin joins a handful of other objects, including dwarf planets, located beyond the orbit of Pluto. The hope is that the more objects like Goblin that are discovered, the more they can be used to help act like probes to map the outer reaches of our solar system and find other, larger objects, including Planet X.
Although there hasn’t been any direct sign of Planet X itself, there is plenty of evidence to support its existence, and even to give us a very rough idea of what the planet looks like – in general terms. The planet is thought to be a cold, icy giant with a mass roughly 10 times that of Earth. It is likely rocky and very dark given its distance from the sun, which is part of why it has been so difficult to find. Beyond that, there is a lot of conjecture and disagreement. See the images above and to the right – both of which are artistic representations of Planet X for proof of those differing ideas.
According to simulations that are used to help locate Planet X, the observers believe that Goblin is being “shepherded” by the massive planet, even though it never comes close to it. In that, it would be similar to how Pluto is shepherded by Neptune and how the two never get too close, despite crossing orbits.
Simulating Planet X
“What makes this result really interesting is that Planet X seems to affect 2015 TG387 the same way as all the other extremely distant Solar System objects,” Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujilllo, the third member of the team said. “These simulations do not prove that there’s another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there.”
So we might end up with nine planets ago – just not the nine many of us grew up with. Pluto could always find its way back into the roster of planets, but at the moment it may be more likely that astronomers will find Planet X first.
“These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X,” Sheppard said. “The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits – a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the Solar System’s evolution.
“We are very uniform in our sky coverage and can find all types of orbits, yet we seem to only be finding objects with similar types of orbits that are on the same side of the sky, suggesting something is shepherding them into these similar types of orbits, which we believe is Planet X.”