If you’re like me, you’re still not over the cruel eviction of Pluto from the order of planets in our solar system. If you ask me how many planets there are, there’s a fairly good chance that I’ll still say: “Nine.” Fortunately, thanks to a recent discovery by two scientists from the California Institute of Technology, I now have a legitimate excuse, because a new, massive planet has been discovered in our solar system.
Planet Nine currently has no official name. Technically, no one even knows what it looks like, because not even the two scientists who announced their discovery have had the chance to actually locate and see it. Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin found Planet Nine after they noticed that objects at the far reaches of our solar system behaved oddly, as if they were subject to a strong gravitational pull. Using mathematics and simulations, they decided that the most likely scenario was that a large, undiscovered planet was exerting the strange gravitational force. After their findings were published, they were supported by other astronomers and NASA scientists. So while Brown and Batygin could have been wrong, and while there are those who refuse to believe in the existence of a hypothetical planet until they see photographic proof for themselves (which, by the way, is going to be incredibly hard to obtain due to how distant Planet Nine is from the earth), it is fairly likely at this point that Planet Nine does exist.
According to Brown and Batygin, Planet Nine is thought to reside and orbit beyond Neptune, which would make it the furthest planet in our solar system. It has a mass that is more than ten times the mass of the earth, and would take more than ten thousand years to complete a full orbit around the sun. The scientists have speculated that its composition will be similar to that of Uranus and Neptune—an “ice giant” composed of a slurry mixture of ice, rock, and clouds of gas. Other than that, scientists know very little about the planet itself. While high-powered telescopes with the ability to catch even the tiniest glimmers of light are already being deployed to catch a glimpse of Planet Nine, actually locating the planet will be very difficult because of its gigantic orbit and sheer distance from the sun.
Ironically, this isn’t the first time Mike Brown has shaken up the solar system. He was also one of the most important scientists in removing Pluto from its status as a planet. When the dwarf planet known as Eris was discovered in 2005, it was Brown who announced the discovery. Unfortunately, his realization that there were likely many small planets similar in size to Eris and Pluto prompted the redefinition of what counted and didn’t count as a planet—and Pluto got the short end of the stick. Oh, and he later wrote a book called: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.
Fortunately, Planet Nine is most likely large enough to avoid getting the boot from the solar system. Which means that finally, our solar system will have nine planets again. Even if one of them isn’t Pluto.