The universe holds countless secrets still unknown to us here on Earth. Our understanding of the dark void above has grown by tenfold over the last few decades, but a multitude of unexplained phenomena remain.
Leagues away from the reaches of Neptune, there’s a mega planet with ten times the mass of planet Earth. Researchers have dubbed this mystery mass Planet Nine. Its gravitational pull is so strong that it’s been pushing nearby objects around, like a giant neighborhood bully.
This massive mega-planet is the cause of clustering objects and irregular orbits in our Solar System.
Or at least, so researchers thought. As it turns out, the planetary king of the cul-de-sac might not even be a planet at all.
It’s a pretty shaky theory, all things considered.
For a planet – let alone a massive one – to form in our outer solar system would require a lot of head-scratching anomalies. Since the Sun’s gravity weakens as objects move further from its light, the speculative Planet Nine is in a weird place for a planet. Planet Nine sits farther than even the most distant bodies in our solar system.
It’s more likely that another star would swoop it up than the Sun’s gravitational pull would keep it in place.
UC-Boulder scientist Anne-Marie Madigan has another theory.
The shaky outer solar system isn’t caused by a secret planet – it’s caused by a bunch of planetary debris. When the solar system formed, Jupiter and Saturn went through something of an angsty phase. As they gathered in mass, the two planets ejected tons of rubble to Pluto and beyond. Madigan believes that this debris collected, formed a disk, and is causing the chaos scientists see today. Madigan says:
“You can explain everything that’s been anomalous in the outer solar system. And that’s not something I say lightly.”
Some researchers believe Planet Nine exists, but it might not be as massive as previously thought. Instead, a much smaller planet and smaller disk of debris are working in tandem to shift things around in our solar system’s outer limits.
Other scientists, like University of Illinois Chicago’s James Urwin, speculate that a black hole might be to blame. Regarding his theory, Urwin explains:
“This is a crazy idea. But not an unreasonable one.”
Far stranger things have happened in our solar system. After all, NASA is about to send a $23 million toilet to the International Space Station.
Astronomers will be the ultimate deciders of whether the Planet Nine theory holds any weight. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is likely to deliver a ruling in five years. Should the telescope readings come up blank, a black hole becomes even more likely. At that point, there’d only be one way for researchers to know what exactly Planet Nine is for sure – sending out our own search party.
While I’m totally thrilled by the idea of having a real life Star Trek team, it would probably cost billions of dollars and the development of technology that we just don’t have. What do you think of these Planet Nine theories? Share with us in the comments below!