Planet X – for centuries the field has been divided. While some vigorously argued for its existence, others shunned the phantom planets as pseudoscience and was on to the next. For the former, today ushers in an era of vindication as astronomers have confirmed that a Neptune-sized planet is lurking beyond Pluto. This discovery heralds the ninth planet of our solar system and the massive planet presents an eclectic path that requires 15,000 to orbit the sun.
Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, planetary scientists of Californina Institute of Technology in Pasadena presented the claim and have potentially closed a chapter of debate and controversy. The two were prepared for the possible barrage and Brown had the following to say: “If you say, ‘We have evidence for Planet X,’ almost any astronomer will say, ‘This again? These guys are clearly crazy.’ I would, too. Why is this different? This is different because this time we’re right.”
While the Brown and Batygin have yet to lay eyes on the newly adopted member of the solar system, they inferred its presence due to a strange clustering of six previously unknown objects prowling in orbit beyond Neptune. While they have provided room for error, 0.007% chance that the cluster could be a coincidental anomoly, the team is incredibly confident that this phenomenon is caused by the presence of Planet X. Brown and Batygin have proposed that the planet is the size of ten Earths and that the gas giant was responsible for the shepherding of six objects into their anomalous and eradicate orbits.
Gregory Laughlin, a planetary scientist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz says “Outside scientists say their calculations stack up and express a mixture of caution and excitement about the result. “I could not imagine a bigger deal if—and of course that’s a boldface ‘if’—if it turns out to be right. What’s thrilling about it is [the planet] is detectable.”
While the evidence is piling up, Brown understands that the majority of individuals will not subscribe to his data until they can place eyes on the planet for themselves. “Until there’s a direct detection, it’s a hypothesis—even a potentially very good hypothesis,” says Brown.
Brown and Batygin have published their findings in The Astronomical Journal and the paper was peer reviewed by Alessandro Morbidelli, a planetary dynamicist at the Nice Observatory in France. Morbidelli has stated that Batygin and Brown present a “very solid argument” and that he is “quite convinced by the existence of a distant planet.”
According to the American Astronomical Society “Batygin and Brown found it isn’t possible to exactly determine the properties of the possible planet, since multiple combinations of its mass, eccentricity, and semimajor axis can create the same observational results. That said, they believe the distant perturber’s orbit is highly eccentric, its orbital inclination is low, and it’s fairly massive (since anything less than an Earth-mass won’t create the observed clustering of KBO orbits within the age of the solar system).”
The duo also explained that this planet fills a notable gap in our solar system and explained “One of the most startling discoveries about other planetary systems has been that the most common type of planet out there has a mass between that of Earth and that of Neptune,” Batygin said. “Until now, we’ve thought that the solar system was lacking in this most common type of planet. Maybe we’re more normal after all.”