Planet 9: the emergence of a hypothesis and alternative scenarios

(ORDO NEWS) — The massive icy giant planet is likely moving through the outer solar system. Dubbed “Planet Nine,” this hypothetical planet was first proposed to explain the unusual orbits of a number of Kuiper belt objects.

“It’s not crazy; people have been making such finds throughout human history,” said one of the discoverers of this hypothetical planet, Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology, USA, earlier this year.

Brown and his partner from the same scientific institution, lead author of the study Konstantin Batygin, published a paper back in January 2016, which suggests that a massive planet can influence the icy bodies of the Kuiper belt, a ring of objects located outside the orbit of Neptune .

Analyzing these strange orbits of Kuiper belt objects, Batygin and Brown hypothesized the presence of another planet in the solar system, an object about the size of the Earth, but about ten times the mass. Scientists have tried to recreate the orbit of this mysterious planet, which they have dubbed “Planet 9”.

The observed perturbations in the orbits of Kuiper belt objects corresponded to a very elongated orbit of this planet with a minor semi-axis of the order of 200 astronomical units (AU), and a major semi-axis of the order of 1200 AU. (1 astronomical unit is equal to the distance from the Earth to the Sun).

Not all scientists share the views of Batygin and Brown. For example, Anna-Maria Madigan, Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, USA, found that these Kuiper belt objects tend to “self-organize”, pushing and pulling each other into unusual orbits.

Together with co-author Michael McCourt of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, she found that if the mass of these scattered disk objects is approximately equal to the mass of the Earth, they could enter their current orbits within about 600 million years from the birth of the Solar System without the participation of the Ninth planets.

According to Batygin and Brown, however, the Planet 9 scenario seems more likely, as recent studies have shown a significant lack of mass in this region of space.

In their study, American scientists note that the disk of matter that gave rise to the planets could have formed with a sufficient amount of mass, but having lost it as a result of being pushed out of the solar system as a result of the interaction between giant planets.

Another study suggests that Planet 9 may be impacting NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting Saturn. Agnes Fienga of the Observatory of Nice, France, and her colleagues included Planet Nine in a theoretical model to see if this hypothetical planet could solve the mystery of tiny changes in the spacecraft’s orbit that cannot be explained from the current configuration of the solar system.

If the proposed planet lies at a distance of 600 AU from the Earth in the direction of the constellation Cetus, then these mysterious deviations could be explained.

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