The furthest regions of the Solar System are a gloomy and mysterious place with details that escape us. Even a moderately massive planet may easily miss our attention while we are so far from the Sun’s brightness.
The trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) that we have discovered outside of Neptune’s orbit have certain odd clustering characteristics that may point to the existence of an undiscovered world. This has prompted researchers to postulate the existence of Planet Nine, a sizable terrestrial planet that lurks far outside the bounds of visibility.
Two researchers have now proposed a different theory to account for the strange characteristics that have been attributed to the presence of a larger object: a smaller, Earth-like world that is far closer than the contentious Planet Nine and orbits the sun at a tilt.
Planetary scientists Takashi Ito of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Patryk Sofia Lykawka of Kindai University in Japan estimate that this frozen, black world would be no more than three times as massive as Earth and no more than 500 astronomical units from the Sun.
We’ve been able to locate a ton more TNOs than previously identified in recent years thanks to more sensitive telescopes and surveys, which has enabled researchers to start identifying trends.
Clustering is a type of pattern among them. Certain TNO groups cluster and move in groups on inclined or tilted orbits, which suggests they have been gravitationally influenced by something far larger than the tiny objects we have been able to observe so far.
Planet Nine Revisited
Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin of Caltech referred to a potential Planet Nine as the culprit in 2016. This planet, which orbits at a distance greater than 460 astronomical units, is estimated to be about 6.3 times as massive as Earth.
Lykawka and Ito have explored and improved the concept now that they have a ton more information on what is already available. Scientists have discovered the characteristics of a fictitious planet that could account for a number of oddities in the Kuiper Belt. If they are accurate or not will depend on additional observations.
An Earth-like planet would be between 1.5 and 3 times the mass of Earth, with an orbit that was between 250 and 500 astronomical units from the Sun’s most distant point with a 30 degree inclination to the plane of the Solar System.
Its existence could explain the orbits of objects like the dwarf planet Sedna, which has an unusually strange and extended orbit, and objects with inclinations greater than 45 degrees. Also, it might shed light on the traits of certain TNO subgroups that frequently go unnoticed in such research but appear to be connected to Neptune.
The researchers’ discoveries provide verifiable traces of their fictitious world. Beyond 150 astronomical units, the planet’s gravity would draw TNOs together into clustered populations that we might be able to find as our methods and equipment advance.
Source: Science Alert