Astronomers discover traces of two new planets hiding in our solar system, somewhere beyond Pluto
Astronomers have found new evidence pointing to two undiscovered planets in orbit around our sun, somewhere beyond Pluto at the furthest reaches of our solar system. And there may be even more.
According to NBC News, researchers studying the orbit of 13 objects beyond Pluto, known as “extreme trans-Neptuian objects ” (ETNOs), discovered gravitational anomalies that could expand the number of planets in our solar system.
The current theory states that an ETNO should have a semi-major axis, and be in orbit around our sun on a plane with a 0-dgree inclination. These objects are also expected to be around 150 astronomical units (AU) away from the sun – roughly 93 million miles. These new objects contradict that theory.
While researching 13 known ETNOs, astronomers found that some of the ETNOs extended as far as 525 AUs, with an average inclination of about 20 degrees. This signifies that there is something out there, something big, exerting gravity on the ETNOs.
The math is insanely complicated, but the gravity being exerted on the ETNOs suggests that there are at least two rocky objects waiting in the far reaches of our solar system, both of which are larger than Earth.
“This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNOs, and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” lead author Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, of the Complutense University of Madrid said.
The key word there is “plants,” which to astronomers has a very specific connotation.
In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) discovered a new object they named Eris, that is larger than Pluto and located beyond the former planet’s orbit. That sparked new guidelines for what the exact definition of a planet is.
According to the new standards, a planet is a body that circles the sun without being in the orbit of another body. It must also be large enough to be round as a result of its own gravity, but not so large that it goes beyond a gas giant to create its own fusion and become a star. The planet must also be large enough to have cleared its neighborhood of the majority of other bodies, which is what tripped up Pluto.
Pluto, Eris, and several other ETNOs were officially re-labeled as “dwarf planets.” These new bodies, however, will likely be labeled as planets when they are discovered.
“The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system,” Marcos added.
The researchers determined that the planets are likely around 200 AUs from the sun. At that distance, conventional tools should be able to narrow down the search are significantly.
For now though, Pluto is about to receive the closest look it has ever had thanks to the New Horizons probe, which was launched on January 19, 2006. It recently awoke from its hibernation to begin observations of the dwarf planet, and will flyby Pluto on July 15.