Researchers find unseen planet in Earth’s solar system

U experts say mathematical evidence of the potential new ninth planet is convincing.

Keaton Schmitt

While Pluto was dropped from the solar system’s roster of planets in 2006, a much larger replacement might be on the way.
 
 
Late last month, California Institute of Technology researchers released reports indicating the existence of an unseen planet in our solar system. The potential new ninth planet is thought to exist because of mathematical and computer modelling, but it has yet to be seen with a telescope.
 
 
The modelling used to find the hypothetical ninth planet is good evidence for its existence, said Terry Jones, a professor in the University of Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics.
 
 
He said researchers used the same method to find Neptune.
 
 
Because the models show the new object affecting the orbits of other bodies, Jones said it will likely qualify for the definition of planet, unlike Pluto. 
 
 
“Pluto doesn’t [influence other planets]; Neptune determines where Pluto goes,” he said, “[Planet 9 is] the dominant gravitational force in its orbit; it determines what happens to other objects in that area. That’s why this would be the ninth planet.”
 
 
One scientist who helped predict the planet, Mike Brown, is known for his support to demote Pluto. In an interview with the Associated Press, Brown said there is no doubt the new discovery will be a full planet, unlike Pluto.
 
 
“This is what we mean when we say the word planet,” Brown told the AP.
 
 
Although models predict the planet exists, it has yet to be seen with a telescope, Jones said. But observatories on Earth could potentially see it, he said. 
 
 
“It’s a big sky, and it’s only roughly known where it might be, so it’s hard to find something that’s faint and that far away.” 
 
 
Experts predict Planet 9 has more mass than 10 Earths, planetary scientist Konstantin Batygin told the AP, adding that confirmation of the new planet will be “era defining.” 
 
 
The findings will probably spur astronomy groups’ interest in spotting the planet first, said Sally Brummel, planetarium manager at the Bell Museum of Natural History. 
 
 
The discovery was made possible by relatively new findings of smaller objects in the Kuiper Belt, the far-away area that includes Pluto, Jones said. Those objects showed gravitational evidence of a much larger body, the hypothetical Planet 9, he said.
 
 
Jones said that even telescopes the University partially owns are large enough to potentially see Planet 9, such as Arizona’s Large Binocular Telescope Project, “if it knew where to look,” he said.
 
 
The Associated Press contributed to this report.