A planet one and a half to three times larger than our Earth behind Neptune could explain several abnormalities in the so-called Kuiper Belt. Two researchers from Japan calculated this and at the same time put forward a testable hypothesis for another planet that has been speculated about for years as “Planet 9”. The proposed planet could therefore orbit the sun at a distance of 250 to 500 astronomical units (AU) and on an orbit inclined by 30 degrees, which would be on the outer edge of the so-called Kuiper belt behind Neptune. This would mean that the planet would be significantly further away from the sun than FarFarOut, the previous record holder. Even if it would be too far for current instruments, the theory could be tested.
Not a new proposal, but a more precise prediction
The new study was presented by Patryk Lykawka and Takashi Ito from Kinki University in Osaka, Japan. It follows on from an earlier work that has now been fundamentally revised. As the two now explain, their hypothetical planet could explain why there are many objects in the Kuiper Belt that are not affected by Neptune’s gravity. The planet could also explain why there are many objects with particularly strongly inclined orbits and some particularly extreme objects with even more unusual properties. There is already an example of the latter in Sedna. All of this could be explained by the gravity of a planet comparable to Earth that orbits much further out.
Overall, the prediction is not surprising; simulations have been suggesting for years that there must be another large planet in the Kuiper Belt behind Neptune. Most recently, Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) attracted particular attention with their work on this subject. The two researchers from Japan have now calculated that such a planet – even if it were too distant for direct detection – would have to ensure that groups of celestial bodies would form in the Kuiper Belt around 150 AU from the Sun. If this could be proven, it would be indirect evidence for the hypothetical planet, they write in the Astronomical Journal.
Just a few weeks ago, three other researchers presented a paper that, in addition to a hypothetical ninth planet at the edge of the solar system, there could even be a tenth planet further out. Such a celestial body in the so-called Oort cloud, which has so far only been described hypothetically, at the very edge of the solar system would therefore be much larger than “Planet 9” and possibly even comparable to Saturn or Jupiter. The research team also calculated that such exoplanets that are particularly far away from their stars should not be that rare. However, these predictions cannot be verified; this possible tenth planet would be too far away.
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