The recent discovery of a KBO (Kuiper Belt Object, large asteroids and dwarf planets that orbit the sun in the Kuiper Belt region,) called “2012 GB174” has lead to new mathematical predictions for a possible location of the ninth planet.
In 2012 an object similar to “Sedna,” (which is an asteroid three-quarters of the size of Pluto) was discovered orbiting the sun. “2012 GB174” was the final piece of the puzzle. The object is one of 6 KBOs that have lead to the contemporary prediction.
The KBOs in question have very eccentric orbits and are tilted on their axes, unlike all of the planets in our solar solar system, which have less eccentric orbits and aren’t tilted.
It is important to keep in mind the background to the current theory and how other planets have been discovered. Nasa Propulsion Engineer Bob Dyke is working on the discovery of astronomical bodies.
“Astrophysicists have been looking for a ninth planet to account for eccinstircites in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune for centuries,” said Dyke. “People are always trying to discover larger and larger planets in our solar system.”
Although the story began billions of years ago, it really started heating up in the 1780s.
“The special thing about Uranus and Neptune is that they are the only planets in the solar system that cannot be seen by the naked eye,” said Dyke, “on March 13, 1781 Herschel found Uranus.”
He found it using telescopes of the time, which was a huge achievement.
“Slightly later,” said Dyke, “a French mathematician said that we needed to start looking for the next planet here. He proved his observations using predictions based on the perturbations Uranus’s orbit around the sun. On September 23, 1846, Neptune was spotted by a German astrologist, thanks greatly to the French mathematician.”
The mathematician in question was called Urbain Le Verrier. But, of course the orbital perturbations still didn’t make sense so the scientific community continued looking for something big beyond Neptune.
“Then,” said Dyke, “Clyde Tombaugh discovers Pluto on February 18, 1930 and at the time they think that it solves the problem, they think it is much bigger and as the years go by it gets smaller and smaller and smaller, well it is discovered to be smaller and smaller until it was barely even a blip.”
With Pluto’s actual size being far less than what was originally perceived, it couldn’t be causing the perturbations in the orbits, thus, once again resuming the search for Planet X.
“So since then about every decade someone has looked at the orbits and decided that the Planet X is in a different place,” said Dyke, “and it never shows up.”
After a while the search turned to these entities called Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), they start to be uncovered following the kuiper belt’s discovery in 1992. They are generally large comets and asteroids, predominantly 30AUs away.
“People started discovering and mapping out the Kuiper Belt Objects and their orbits,” said Dyke, “eventually people realised that once again the orbits didn’t make sense.”
Putting people on the hunt for the planet from an alternate angle, large asteroids and their orbits. NASA decided to further hone this point by building a large telescope.
“Later an infrared observatory was put in orbit called the WISE observatory,” said Dyke, “that proved that there are no large infrared bodies the size of neptune or larger twice as far away.”
Meaning that either there is nothing out there, there is something very cool and dense and far away, or straight up massive and really far out there. But at this point scientists don’t know where.
With the discovery of Sedna, physicists started looking at the odds of the KBOs arriving at that position without being pulled from outside the solar system. Imagine flipping a coin and landing heads 10 times in a row. Some scientists are claiming that these events are coincidences or even that the solution lies in our updating Newtonian Gravity principles to allow for theses things.
But as is dictated by Occam’s Razor, a problem solving principle that dictates the simplest answer is the most likely to be correct, it seems that the best answer is the one that doesn’t require the scientific community to rewrite the laws of Newtonian physics.
After some thought, RAHS’ resident astronomy expert, Nikhil Joshi had only a metaphor for the matter.
“It is more likely a horse than a unicorn,” said Joshi.