January 20, 2016

Evidence for a previously unknown Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System that is 5000 times bigger than Pluto

Astronomers say they have compelling evidence of something bigger and farther away than Pluto and this something would definitely satisfy the current definition of a planet.

Evidence indicates there is an undiscovered planet 5000 times bigger than Pluto

Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun.

The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly

There was separate work at the Atacama radio telescope facility for evidence of a possible large planet or Brown Dwarf object. The nature of Atacama work could not isolate the exact location.

Brown notes that the putative ninth planet—at 5,000 times the mass of Pluto—is sufficiently large that there should be no debate about whether it is a true planet. Unlike the class of smaller objects now known as dwarf planets, Planet Nine gravitationally dominates its neighborhood of the solar system. In fact, it dominates a region larger than any of the other known planets—a fact that Brown says makes it "the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system."

Dr. Morbidelli said that the ninth planet could easily be the core of a gas giant that started forming in the early years of the solar system; a close pass to Jupiter could have flung it out. In those days, the sun was packed in a dense cluster of stars, and the gravity of those neighbors could have slowed the planet and prevented it from escaping the solar system.

Dr. Brown said he began searching for the planet a year ago, and he thought he would be able to find it within five years — perhaps sooner, with luck. Now it is likely that other astronomers will scan that swath of the sky.

If the planet exists, it would easily meet the International Astronomical Union’s requirements, Dr. Brown said.

“There are some truly dominant bodies in the solar system and they are pushing around everything else,” Dr. Brown said. “This is what we mean when we say planet.”

Our solar system is likely like thousands of others with most planets in the 1 to 10 earth mass size

In terms of understanding more about the solar system's context in the rest of the universe, Batygin says that in a couple of ways, this ninth planet that seems like such an oddball to us would actually make our solar system more similar to the other planetary systems that astronomers are finding around other stars. First, most of the planets around other sunlike stars have no single orbital range—that is, some orbit extremely close to their host stars while others follow exceptionally distant orbits. Second, the most common planets around other stars range between 1 and 10 Earth-masses.

"One of the most startling discoveries about other planetary systems has been that the most common type of planet out there has a mass between that of Earth and that of Neptune," says Batygin. "Until now, we've thought that the solar system was lacking in this most common type of planet. Maybe we're more normal after all."

Brown, well known for the significant role he played in the demotion of Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet adds, "All those people who are mad that Pluto is no longer a planet can be thrilled to know that there is a real planet out there still to be found," he says. "Now we can go and find this planet and make the solar system have nine planets once again."


The six most distant known objects in the solar system with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) all mysteriously line up in a single direction. Also, when viewed in three dimensions, they tilt nearly identically away from the plane of the solar system. Batygin and Brown show that a planet with 10 times the mass of the earth in a distant eccentric orbit anti-aligned with the other six objects (orange) is required to maintain this configuration Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC); [Diagram created using WorldWide Telescope.]


This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Recent analyses have shown that distant orbits within the scattered disk population of the Kuiper Belt exhibit an unexpected clustering in their respective arguments of perihelion. While several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this alignment, to date, a theoretical model that can successfully account for the observations remains elusive. In this work we show that the orbits of distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) cluster not only in argument of perihelion, but also in physical space. We demonstrate that the perihelion positions and orbital planes of the objects are tightly confined and that such a clustering has only a probability of 0.007% to be due to chance, thus requiring a dynamical origin. We find that the observed orbital alignment can be maintained by a distant eccentric planet with mass gsim10 m⊕ whose orbit lies in approximately the same plane as those of the distant KBOs, but whose perihelion is 180° away from the perihelia of the minor bodies. In addition to accounting for the observed orbital alignment, the existence of such a planet naturally explains the presence of high-perihelion Sedna-like objects, as well as the known collection of high semimajor axis objects with inclinations between 60° and 150° whose origin was previously unclear. Continued analysis of both distant and highly inclined outer solar system objects provides the opportunity for testing our hypothesis as well as further constraining the orbital elements and mass of the distant planet.



To date, the distinctive orbital alignment observed within the scattered disk population of the Kuiper Belt remains largely unexplained. Accordingly, the primary purpose of this study has been to identify a physical mechanism that can generate and maintain the peculiar clustering of orbital elements in the remote outskirts of the solar system. Here, we have proposed that the process of resonant coupling with a distant, planetary mass companion can explain the available data, and have outlined an observational test that can validate or refute our hypothesis.

We began our analysis with a re-examination of the available data. To this end, in addition to the previously known grouping of the arguments of perihelia (Trujillo & Sheppard 2014), we have identified ancillary clustering in the longitude of the ascending node of distant KBOs and showed that objects that are not actively scattering off of Neptune exhibit true orbital confinement in inertial space. The aim of subsequent calculations was then to establish whether gravitational perturbations arising from a yet-unidentified planetary-mass body that occupies an extended, but nevertheless bound, orbit can adequately explain the observational data.

The likely range of orbital properties of the distant perturber was motivated by analytic considerations, originating within the framework of octupole-order secular theory. By constructing secular phase-space portraits of a strictly planar system, we demonstrated that a highly eccentric distant perturber can drive significant modulation of particle eccentricities and libration of apsidal lines such that the perturber's orbit continuously encloses interior KBOs. Intriguingly, numerical reconstruction of the projected phase-space portraits revealed that, in addition to secular interactions, resonant coupling may strongly affect the dynamical evolution of KBOs residing within the relevant range of orbital parameters. More specifically, direct N-body calculations have shown that grossly overlapped, apsidally anti-aligned orbits can be maintained at nearly Neptune-crossing eccentricities by a highly elliptical perturber, resulting in persistent near-colinearity of KBO perihelia.

Having identified an illustrative set of orbital properties of the perturber in the planar case, we demonstrated that an inclined object with similar parameters can dynamically carve a population of particles that is confined both apsidally and nodally. Such sculpting leads to a family of orbits that is clustered in physical space, in agreement with the data. Although the model proposed herein is characterized by a multitude of quantities that are inherently degenerate with respect to one another, our calculations suggest that a perturber on an a' ~ 700 AU, e' ~ 0.6 orbit would have to be somewhat more massive (e.g., a factor of a few) than m' = 10 m⊕ to produce the desired effect.

A unique prediction that arises within the context of our resonant coupling model is that the perturber allows for the existence of an additional population of high-perihelion KBOs that do not exhibit the same type of orbital clustering as the identified objects. Observational efforts aimed at discovering such objects, as well as directly detecting the distant perturber itself constitute the best path toward testing our hypothesis.

SOURCE - Caltech, Astronomical Journal

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