Our science editor with the latest in research and the environment, science and discovery on our crowded planet and beyond.
And then there were nine (again).
Researchers in California have announced there may be a giant ninth planet at the very outer edge of our Solar System.
It’s great news for those who never quite got over the relegation of Pluto to non-planet status back in 2006, leaving the solar system feeling a bit empty.
And because this new planet isn’t just some weedy, qualifying-on-a-technicality type planet (sorry Pluto), it’s unlikely to ever get demoted.
There’s an irony too – in that the co-discoverer of the new object Prof Mike Brown at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is the man who did most to prove Pluto didn’t qualify for planet status.
“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown
According to Brown and his colleague Konstantin Batygin, also at Caltech, the new object is an absolute monster. Five to ten times more massive than the Earth, and a full 4,500 times bigger than Pluto.
It is so far from the Sun it takes 10 to 20 thousand years to go round it once. A year is a very long time on Planet 9.
Well, that’s if it can actually be proven to exist.
Planetary scientists and Mike Brown inferred its existence by studying the orbits of very distant objects in the Kuiper Belt — an area of rocky debris beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.
The only explanation for the irregular orbits of the objects was the presence of a very large object in orbit around our Sun with enough mass to have its own gravitational effects – in other words, a planet.
Planet 9 should be large enough for some of our largest telescopes to spot – and confirmed observations of the object in orbit would be required for it to be officially recognised and named.
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