Many of us will remember a time when our solar system contained nine planets rather than the now accepted eight, after Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. Perhaps even more tragically, all of the mnemonics we had been taught to remember for ordering the planets became invalid in one fell swoop. Those of us who are still sore about the loss of Pluto as a planet can rejoice in the fact that there may be a ninth planet after all.
Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have suggested that there may be a planet 10 times the size of Earth, far beyond Pluto. This theory is based on findings that the six most distant objects in the Kuiper Belt, which have orbits beyond Neptune, behave strangely. It was found that the orbits of these objects line-up in one direction, and that they are deflected from the plane of the solar system.
The researchers used computer models to show that this strange feature can be explained by the presence of a large planet further away. This hypothetical planet has been nicknamed ‘Planet Nine’ or ‘Planet X’ and its possible existence has caused excitement around the world. While this news is exciting, ‘Planet X’ hasn’t actually been discovered yet. In a video released by NASA, the Director of Planetary Science at NASA, Jim Green, commented on the theory, saying that “it is not, however, the detection of a new planet. It’s too early to say with certainty that there is a so-called ‘Planet X’ out there.”
However, astronomers have suggested that if this hypothetical planet is real, large telescopes such as the Subaru Telescope should be able to spot it. If this is the case, could we be expecting observational proof of the existence of a ninth planet in the coming months?