Remember in 2006 when Pluto was demoted to a “dwarf planet,” and everything you knew about the solar system suddenly came crashing down? Well, get ready for round two of alarming astronomical madness — because new research suggests there’s a previously undiscovered addition to our cosmic neighborhood.
While astronomers have long suspected there’s a so-called “Planet X” lurking in the outskirts of the solar system, a new study from California Institute of Technology further supports the ninth planet’s existence. Two scientists announced Wednesday (Jan. 20) that the previously unknown body, nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass up to 10 times that of Earth, and takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit just once around the Sun.
According to the scientists’ study in the Astronomical Journal, they found evidence of Planet Nine by analyzing a group of small objects clustered in an icy region called the Kuiper Belt. By observing the gravitational pulls of those nearby bodies, they found that something had to be influencing them — likely, a large planet. That means Planet Nine hasn’t actually been seen yet, but odds are high that it’s indeed the real deal.
"Although we were initially quite skeptical that this planet could exist, as we continued to investigate its orbit and what it would mean for the outer solar system, we become increasingly convinced that it is out there," said Konstantin Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science at CalTech. "For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system's planetary census is incomplete."
Interestingly, one of the scientists behind the discovery is Mike Brown, who was also responsible for stripping Pluto of its title as the ninth planet. Unlike Pluto, though, Planet Nine would apparently be so large that its planetary status wouldn’t even be up for debate. Which is great, because it was heartbreaking enough going through that loss the first time around. (Miss you, Pluto.)
The question is, once we get more concrete evidence of the elusive Planet Nine and give it the official welcome party it deserves, what will it be named?! (Surely, “Planet Nine” is just a placeholder… we hope.) The decision is technically up to the International Astronomical Union, but that hasn’t stopped the Twittersphere from chiming in with their submissions. Here are some of the best:
So, what would YOU name Planet Nine? Share your suggestion in the comments below!