We may not be particularly close to colonizing other planets, but we’re doing a bang-up job of developing new ways to explore what lies beyond our limited, space-obscuring sphere. From the space rover Perseverance landing on Mars recently, to an ancient, high-energy neutrino setting off tidal alarms here on Earth, we are constantly finding new discoveries that will reshape how we perceive the cosmos. To help us further understand the solar system around us, scientists appear to have made a breakthrough that may change how they observe and classify a particular event going forward.
A new study blurs the notion that a large planet is sitting at the edge of our solar system. In fact, new evidence suggests that the planet, dubbed Planet Nine 0r Planet X, isn’t there. This may be disappointing news for some, but this may get us even closer to figuring out what it is they actually saw. Whatever this unknown object is could possibly be even more incredible than the prospect of a massive, Earth-dwarfing planet.
The possibility of Planet Nine’s existence on the edge of our solar system gained popularity in 2014, shortly after Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo and Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science noted trans-Neptunian objects with what ScienceNews referred to as “bunched-up orbits.”
University of Pennsylvania astronomer Gary Bernstein said that the initial report and its subsequent follow-up studies were not necessarily representative of the bigger picture, expressing skepticism even as he urged other scientists to keep researching. It will be interesting to see what the researchers attached to this project end up finding in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, we will get something a bit more concrete about what is in our solar system in the near future.
The reason scientists believe it was a planet within our solar system is that, according to Science News, a cluster of distant objects appeared “as if they are being shepherded by an unseen giant planet, at least 10 times the mass of Earth.” That wording likely refers to the bunched-up orbit claims Trujillo and Sheppard made back in 2014.
Of the potential illusion, University of Michigan physicist Kevin Napier says, “We can’t rule it out. But there’s not necessarily a reason to rule it in.” Napier and his colleagues published the aforementioned report on February 10th, with a planned spotlight in an upcoming issue of Planetary Science Journal.
Whether or not Planet Nine is a real thing, it is an exciting thing to ponder. There is so much out there that we do not understand, and disappointing discoveries such as this can easily be reframed as bigger steps that bring us closer to the truth. Even in our own solar system, there’s so much that we don’t know, and while we are making great strides in exploring planets like Mars, who knows what wonders we don’t even know about exist amongst the stars? But the fact that there could theoretically be an entire planet in our solar system that we don’t even know about, it’s clear that there’s so much out there and we’re just now tapping the surface of the possibilities of space.