By Tanya Harrington
After an announcement in January made by the researchers Dr Konstantin Batygin and Professor Mike Brown at the California Institute of Technology, regarding a potential ninth planet in existence in our solar system, astrophysicists have been at work trying to get a better picture of what this planet may consist of.
The discovery of this planet, now known as ‘Planet Nine,’ came about after observing the movements and alignments of other planets and objects in our solar system, and realising that these were best explained by the existence of another planet influencing its surroundings with its placement and gravitational pull.
Now, researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland, Professor Christoph Mordasini and PhD student Esther Linder, have undertaken a study which has been accepted by the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal, regarding further details about what Planet Nine may be like.
Stating that “we assumed that it is a smaller version of Uranus and Neptune,” the researchers were able to trace the thermodynamic evolution of the planet, starting from the beginning of our solar system – an estimated 4.6 billion years ago. Using this model allowed the researchers to propose many potential pieces of information about the planet, such as its mass, radius, temperature and distance from the sun.
According to these researchers, the planet is thought to have a mass equal to 10 times that of Earth, a radius measuring 3.7 times Earth’s, a temperature of approximately -226 °C (or 47 Kelvin, which is a more commonly used measurement of temperature in astronomy), and is 700 times further away from the sun than Earth – making it come close to 105 billion kilometres away.
The researchers’ model details Planet Nine as an “ice planet,” containing an iron core and surrounded with an “envelope” of hydrogen and helium.
Due to its distance from the sun, it is thought that Planet Nine would receive hardly any warmth and reflect very little light, if any, which is why it may have remained undiscovered for so long by optical telescopes. It is possible that infrared technology may help to better ‘see’ the planet, by finding any heat it may radiate from its core.
In fact, the planet may already have been spotted as recent findings from OSSOS (the Outer Solar System Origins Survey) include the discovery of a new object, stated by Professor Mike Brown to be “exactly where Planet Nine says it should be.” The object, labelled “uo3L91”, will certainly be the subject of much research in the near future.
While Dr Batygin and Professor Brown lean towards the idea that Planet Nine has always been a part of our solar system, other researchers, such as Alexander Mustill from the Lund Observatory in Sweden propose that the planet could have originated from around another star, making it an “exoplanet,” and has been “stolen” by our suns gravitational pull.
However, the fact stands that regardless of its potential origins, it certainly seems as though Planet Nine will be here to stay – and researchers will definitely be uncovering more information about it very soon.