Astronomers have recently announced the possible discovery of a new planet in our solar system, which could bring the total planet count back to 9 again as reported by Inhabitat.
In many of our hearts, Pluto is still the 9th planet, but it was demoted to a dwarf planet. The possible new planet may be nearly the size of Neptune and lurks beyond Pluto in the far reaches of the solar system. “Planet X” slowly circles the Sun, completing its orbit every 15,000 years!
The hunt to find a planet beyond Pluto has perplexed astronomers for centuries and breakthroughs are often faced by scepticism. Researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) discovered the planet while recording an abnormal bunching of six other bodies known to orbit near the planet Neptune. Their research indicated the gravitational pull of a planet with a mass equivalent of 10 Earths. The research team said that there was only a 0.007% chance or about 1:15,000 that the bunching was a coincidence.
If the 9th planet or Planet X does exist, its gravitational pull should make it easier for scientists to discover new small heavenly objects in that part of space. However, the 9th planet cannot be added to textbooks and planetarium shows until it is finally confirmed through a telescope. According to Brown, until there’s a direct detection, it will remain a strong hypothesis.
The research team is using a powerful telescope in Hawaii to search for their planet and they are encouraging other astronomers to join the hunt. Brown’s new job as a planet hunter offers him redemption from his previous role as “Pluto Slayer”; in 2005, Brown’s discovery of Eris, an icy world similar to Pluto in size and location, demonstrated that Pluto was just one of several dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt. For Brown, the demotion of Pluto pales in comparison to his new pursuit.