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Breaking News: Planet 9 Found!

1st August 2017 Print

The mysterious and elusive ninth planet of our solar system that is believed to be in existence since 2014, has reportedly been located by a Mr C. Green of Hampshire, UK.

Mr Green, an amateur astronomer, made the schoolbook-changing discovery using a Meade LightBridge 12"/304.8mm Reflector Telescope from his home observatory a month ago‎. Originally assuming that it was a much smaller near-Earth object, Mr Green decided to track its trajectory only to discover that the low apparent magnitude object is in fact in a highly elliptical orbit and, according to early calculations, appearing to be travelling towards the inner solar system. Mr Green has submitted his findings to the UK Astronomy Technology Centre and the UK Space Agency pending official confirmation. The elusive Planet Nine may have finally been discovered!

Planet Nine, until recently only a “hypothetical planet”, is believed to exist far beyond Pluto’s orbit apogee, the celestial object that held the title of the 9th planet of the solar system before being demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006. 

Earlier in 2016, scientists from the California Institute of Technology announced that a planet ten times the mass of Earth exists some 19 billion miles away. The solar system has always been known to be tilted, and experts are attributing this to the presence of a huge planet on the outer reaches of the Sun’s gravitational pull. The planets as we have known them for hundreds of years, orbit the Sun on a flat plane, but that rotation is at a six-degree angle in comparison to the equator of our star. This has confused astronomers for years. The possibility of a giant planet on the outskirts of the solar system which is effectively weighing the rest of it down, has been the most prominent explanation for the angle. 

Leading astronomers have been in agreement that there is a Planet Nine, and entered the race to locate it earlier in 2016. According to calculations, the elusive planet takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the sun, which highlights just how far away it is. A probe could be sent out for closer inspection, but it would take twenty years to get there. In the quest to locate it, scientists had to resort to high-powered telescopes. There are a few high-powered telescopes particularly equipped to get the job done, such as Caltech's Keck Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, but Mr Green’s reported discovery with the amateur Meade LightBridge is nothing short of remarkable.

In the scramble to pinpoint Planet Nine, a number of other interesting space objects have been discovered. Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Carnegie Institution for Science have observed several never-before-seen objects at extreme distances from the Sun, and have submitted their findings to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center for official designations. Spotting these distant objects is important because examining their behaviour will help to focus the search for Planet Nine. This is because the planet has its own gravitational pull and will have a number of smaller things orbiting it.

Sheppard and Trujillo have been working with David Tholen of the University of Hawaii to conduct the deepest survey in history for objects beyond Neptune and the Kuiper belt. The three scientists have used some of the most incredible telescopes and cameras ever made including the Dark Energy Camera on the NOAO 4-meter Blanco telescope in Chile and the Japanese Hyper Suprime-Cam on the 8-meter Subaru telescope in Hawaii, and have thus far managed to cover about 10% of the sky in their quest to find Planet Nine. Sheppard has stated that we are now in a similar situation to when Neptune was first discovered back in the mid-19th Century. That revelation came about when Alexis Bouvard noticed that Uranus’ orbital motion was peculiar.

Scientists have predicted that the emergence of Planet Nine would occur soon. In October 2016 astronomer Mike Brown estimated that it would be discovered by the end of 2017. His reasoning was that because so many people were now on the lookout for it, the planet - which is ten times the size of Earth - could not go on hiding for much longer. This would represent a relatively short space of time between the first theories about the planet and the first actual encounter.

The leading astronomers at principal space organisations such as NASA may be slightly peeved though, that the planet has been found by a mere amateur. But as it stands, Mr Green is still awaiting official confirmation that his sighting was in fact the mysterious planet and not just some random space object.

If the discovery of Planet Nine, which has been dubbed as the most important astronomical discovery of a generation, is officially credited to Mr Green, he has vowed to name the planet after his cat, "Emoji”. This will mark the first time a planet has ever been named after a household pet, with most of the others being named after either Greek or Roman gods or goddesses. The name of our planet, Earth, is derived from both English and German words that mean “ground.”


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