The universe is massive. NASA has a team of astronomers tasked only with the responsibility to find planetary objects close to our relative location in the Milky Way. Unfortunately, technology will only allow us to see so far into space; sometimes that’s enough. The existence of a massive planetary object was proposed earlier this year, and the evidence can be found in the impact it has on our Solar System as a whole.
The forces of gravity can be felt for millions of miles, depending on the size of an object in orbit. Orbit itself is caused by the gravitational pull of a relatively nearby body, which could be anything from a star to a super massive black hole. In fact, the gravitational pull from certain objects is so strong that time as we know it is affected. This is the primary way we know of the existence of massive objects in space even if they’re millions of miles away.
There have been two new studies published that provide even more evidence for a massive planet that exists at the edge of our Solar System. The planetary object named Planet Nine was first introduced to us earlier in 2016, but it still hasn’t been directly observed. Considering that the object is 70 times further from the Sun than the Earth, it’s understandable why observations have been limited.
What’s interesting is that astronomers have started studying the potential effects this planetary object could have on the Solar System as a whole. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology, including the original proposers of Planet Nine, suggest that the six-degree tilt in the Sun is actually caused by the gravitational pull of Planet Nine itself.
“Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the Solar System has no choice but to slowly twist our alignment,” explained the lead author of the research Elizabeth Bailey in a recent statement.
In another study published by the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the focus is on four minor objects in the Kuiper belt. These four objects, including the minor planet Sedna, have orbits that are not random. Researchers believe that their movements are caused by a massive object with properties very similar to what is expected of Planet Nine.
“We analyzed the data of these most distant Kuiper Belt objects, and noticed something peculiar, suggesting they were in some kind of resonances with an unseen planet. Our paper provides more specific estimates for the mass and orbit that this planet would have, and more importantly, constraints on its current position within its orbit,” explains lead author Renu Malhotra from the University of Arizona also in a recent statement.
Research is still inconclusive when it comes to the definitive existence of Planet Nine, but evidence is mounting. Astronomers are now searching the outer edges of the Solar System for even more evidence, but they estimate an actual observation of Planet Nine won’t be possible for another three years or so.
Although we don’t know for sure that Planet Nine exists, it’s still a testament to how large the universe is that something can be included in our solar system without us knowing for decades. It forces us to ask, what else is out there?