The search for the mythical Planet X may not be over yet. Scientists at Kobe University, Japan, announced that they believe another planet is orbiting within our solar system, up to two-thirds the size of the Earth. Yes, Trekkers, Planet-X is back!
The Kuiper Belt terminates suddenly at a distance of 55 Astronomical Units from the Sun, and there is some speculation this may be caused by the presence of an object with a mass between that of and Earth located beyond what is known as the Kuiper cliff at 55 AU.
Patryk Lykawka, an astronomer at Kobe University, Japan, claims that we will prove this object's existence or lack thereof by 2013. Lykawka's computer simulations suggest that a body roughly the size of Earth, ejected outward by Neptune early in the Solar System's formation and currently set in elongated orbit between 80 and 170 AUs from the Sun, While some astronomers have cautiously supported Lykawka's claims, others have dismissed them as contrived.
The study by Tadashi Mukai, the lead researcher and Patryk Lykawka -to be published in the April issue of the US-Based Astronomical Journal- however apparently is based in nothing more than supposition. The pair from Kobe University set up a theoretical model that focused on the Kuiper belt – similar to the asteroid belt sitting between Mars and Jupiter, but out past Neptune and far larger; 20 times as wide and 20–200 times as massive.
The model was designed to look at the area and how it would have evolved over the past four billion years. "In coming up with an explanation for the celestial bodies, we thought it would be most natural to assume the existence of a yet unknown planet," Mukai said. "Based on our hypothesis, we calculated how debris moved over the past four billion years. The result matched the actual movement of the celestial bodies we can observe now."
So, as far as I can see, there isn’t anything like the gravitational
effects that were played out on Neptune that led to astronomer Clyde
Tombaugh locating Pluto in 1930 in the Kuiper belt, a chain of icy debris in the outer reaches of the solar system. In 2006, nearly a decade after Tombaugh's death, the International Astronomical Union ruled the celestial body was merely a dwarf planet in the cluttered Kuiper belt.
The astronomers said Pluto's oblong orbit overlapped with that of Neptune, excluding it from being a planet. It defined the solar system as consisting solely of the classical set of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
The team noted that more than 1,100 celestial bodies have been found in the outer reaches of the solar system since the mid-1990s.
But Planet X would be "the first time to discover a celestial body of this size, which is much larger than Pluto," Mukai said.
The researchers set up a theoretical model looking at how the remote area of the solar system would have evolved over the past four billion years.
"The possibility is high that a yet unknown, planet-class celestial body, measuring 30 percent to 70 percent of the Earth's mass, exists in the outer edges of the solar system," said a summary of the research released by Kobe University. "If research is conducted on a wide scale, the planet is likely to be discovered in less than 10 years."
So for all of us that intend to have that piece of trivia knowledge over our mates at a future pub visit, let’s keep our fingers crossed they finally locate Planet-X (and reinstate Pluto. It would be a bit anti-climactic to once again find a ninth planet!).
Posted by Josh Hill.
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