Is there really a Planet X?

23rd January 2016

"Killing Pluto was fun, but this is head and shoulders above everything else" – Mike Brown

It has long been suspected that a ninth planet lurks out there (sorry Pluto, it’s not you!) and over the years it has been proposed numerous times. Recently however researchers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, working at Caltech, California, undertook a detailed analysis of this possibility as part of research looking at the “unusual” movements of some objects in the outer solar system.

Many scientists have come to believe that the unusual movements of some objects in Kuiper belt and some of the unusual features of the planet Neptune can only be explained by a massive planet beyond Neptune.  This is however the first time is has been looked at in such detail, Chris Lintott, an Oxford professor in astrophysics has called this the most “detailed and convincing analysis yet”.

This proposed planet would have to be ten times larger than Earth. It would also have an orbit which would take approximately 15,000 years to complete. Furthermore even at its closest approach to the sun it would still be over seven times as far at the Planet Neptune (or 200 astronomic units away – an AU is the distance between the Sun and the Earth).

Planet X, if it exists would be large enough to be visible with sensitive telescopes. If it exists it is estimated that it will take a few years to track down. Work has already begun at the 8 meter Subaru telescope on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the large field of view this telescope should allow an effective search to take place.

So perhaps in a few years we’ll be welcoming a new planet into our solar systems – apologies again to Pluto.