Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ninth Planet Hunt: Scientists Discover Extreme Objects

Ninth Planet Hunt: Scientists Discover Extreme Objects

Robin Dienel

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Researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Northern Arizona University found new trans-Neptunian objects while hunting for the mysterious ninth planet. The never-before-seen objects are located at extreme distances from the sun and now described in a paper to be published by The Astronomical Journal.

While the research team has not found Planet 9 yet, these objects can help them pinpoint its exact location. Moreover, the objects can also help experts determine the size of the solar system’s ninth planet.

“Objects found far beyond Neptune hold the key to unlocking our Solar System’s origins and evolution,” says Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard. “Though we believe there are thousands of these small objects, we haven’t found very many of them yet, because they are so far away. The smaller objects can lead us to the much bigger planet we think exists out there. The more we discover, the better we will be able to understand what is going on in the outer Solar System.”

Among the objects found during their NASA Planetary Astronomy-funded research is the 2012 VP113, also called Biden. This trans-Neptunian object was mistakenly called Planet X or Planet 9.

It has the farthest orbit in the solar system that we know of so far. Experts believe that this object has  a mass several times higher than Earth’s or similar to that of Neptune’s.

Another is the so-called 2014 SR349. They also found 2013 FT28, which share some similar characteristics with other extreme trans-Neptunian objects.

They also discovered 2014 FE72. It is the first distant Oort Cloud object found with an orbit that extends beyond Neptune. Experts believe that its distant orbit causes it to be influenced by objects beyond the solar system, including influences from stars and galactic tide.

As of now, the researchers, with collaborators from the University of Hawaii, have surveyed close to 10 percent of the sky. They assert that this number is too small to help us uncover what really happens outside the solar system. Nevertheless, they are determined to find even more extreme trans-Neptunian objects so we could shed more light into the mysteries of space.