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The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.
In fact, it would take this new planet between 10, and 20, years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Browndiscovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly.
It's a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that's still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting. Unlike the class of smaller objects now known as dwarf planets, Planet Nine gravitationally dominates its neighborhood of the solar system.
In fact, it dominates a region larger than any of the other known planets—a fact that Brown says makes it "the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system. Ina former postdoc of Brown's, Chad Trujillo, and his colleague Scott Sheppard published a paper noting that 13 of the most distant objects in the Kuiper Belt are similar with respect to an obscure orbital feature.
To explain that similarity, they suggested the possible presence of a small planet. Brown thought the planet solution was unlikely, but his interest was piqued. He took the problem down the hall to Batygin, and the two started what became a year-and-a-half-long collaboration to investigate the distant objects.
As an observer and a theorist, respectively, the researchers approached the work from very different perspectives—Brown as someone who looks at the sky and tries to anchor everything in the context of what can be seen, and Batygin as someone who puts himself within the context of dynamics, considering how things might work from a physics standpoint.
Those differences allowed the researchers to challenge each other's ideas and to consider new possibilities. I don't think the discovery would have happened without that back and forth," says Brown. That is particularly surprising because the outermost points of their orbits move around the solar system, and they travel at different rates.
The odds of having that happen are something like 1 inhe says. But on top of that, the orbits of the six objects are also all tilted in the same way—pointing about 30 degrees downward in the same direction relative to the plane of the eight known planets.
The probability of that happening is about 0. The researchers quickly ruled this out when it turned out that such a scenario would require the Kuiper Belt to have about times the mass it has today.
That left them with the idea of a planet. Their first instinct was to run simulations involving a planet in a distant orbit that encircled the orbits of the six Kuiper Belt objects, acting like a giant lasso to wrangle them into their alignment. Batygin says that almost works but does not provide the observed eccentricities precisely.
Then, effectively by accident, Batygin and Brown noticed that if they ran their simulations with a massive planet in an anti-aligned orbit—an orbit in which the planet's closest approach to the sun, or perihelion, is degrees across from the perihelion of all the other objects and known planets—the distant Kuiper Belt objects in the simulation assumed the alignment that is actually observed.
This can't be stable over the long term because, after all, this would cause the planet and these objects to meet and eventually collide,'" says Batygin.
But through a mechanism known as mean-motion resonance, the anti-aligned orbit of the ninth planet actually prevents the Kuiper Belt objects from colliding with it and keeps them aligned. As orbiting objects approach each other they exchange energy.
So, for example, for every four orbits Planet Nine makes, a distant Kuiper Belt object might complete nine orbits. Instead, like a parent maintaining the arc of a child on a swing with periodic pushes, Planet Nine nudges the orbits of distant Kuiper Belt objects such that their configuration with relation to the planet is preserved.
It should hopefully explain things that you didn't set out to explain and make predictions that are testable," says Batygin. And indeed Planet Nine's existence helps explain more than just the alignment of the distant Kuiper Belt objects.
It also provides an explanation for the mysterious orbits that two of them trace. The first of those objects, dubbed Sedna, was discovered by Brown in How to Make Handmade Paper. This paper making recipe will help you recycle some of that wasted paper around your house such as: newsprint, envelopes, writing paper, left over gift wrap or other types of paper.
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