For a long time, the count of planets in our solar system stood at nine, with Pluto bringing up the rear at 3.6 billion miles from the Sun on average. Unfortunately for the little guy, its status as a planet was recently stripped and we're only just getting used to calling it a dwarf planet. Now it turns out there might be a ninth planet that orbits around our Sun after all — and its orbit could stretch from 20 billion to 100 billion miles from the center of the solar system.
Two astronomy professors from Caltech, Michael E. Brown and Konstantin Batygin, published the findings in The Astronomical Journal. They haven't actually located the planet itself yet, but they have found evidence that a massive object at least as big as Earth is disrupting the orbits of six distant objects in elliptical orbits. The objects are likely from the Kuiper Belt, a region of the solar system beyond Neptune that is believed to contain many asteroids, comets, and other small bodies.
"We have pretty good constraints on [the planet's] orbit," Dr. Brown told The New York Times. "What we don't know is where it is in its orbit, which is too bad."
Alessandro Morbidelli of the Côte d'Azur Observatory in France, an expert in dynamics of the solar system, said, "I think they're onto something real" and "the chase is now on to find this planet." He believes it could be the core of a gas giant that started forming in the early days of the solar system. Because of the Sun's proximity to other stars back then, an ejection of the planet by Jupiter or one of the other neighbors could have bounced it around and kept it from floating into interstellar space.
So now that many astronomers will be on the hunt to prove this new planet exists, it might be time to start coming up with names for it and rethinking mnemonics like "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine." Nine what, though? So crazy that we'd never have found out if another planet wasn't out there. What luck.
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