Monday, September 20, 2021

From Planet X to "El Duende": More than 100 Years in Search of the Solar System's Farthest Neighbor

 In 1906, Percival Lowell raised debate among scholars by asserting the hypothetical existence of a planet in our system other than Neptune, Planet X. A few years ago, Lowell's predictions were more or less confirmed in a study that indicated that the "Planet 9" may be lurking at the edge of our system.

  The International Astronomical Union announced yesterday that they have found a new object besides Neptune.  Known as 2015 TG387, or "The Goblin", this dwarf planet floats in an orbit very far from the Sun. But are we really looking at Planet 9?  Finally found?  It does not seem.  Although we may be closer to doing this than ever before.

  The story of a very elusive planet

  It orbits about 80 astronomical units from the Sun, (about 11.97 billion kilometers), about two and a half times farther from the Sun than Pluto, and appears to be a rocky planet, larger than our Earth, but infinitely cooler.  Confirmation of TG387 2015 was received with great pleasure among explorers in search of Planet 9.

 The search for a ninth neighbor in the system goes back a long way, when Lowell, at the beginning of the 20th century, proposed its existence.  Lowell thought this planet would be a gas giant with a mass equivalent to 6.6 times that of Earth.  Interestingly, the search for this planet X led to the discovery of Pluto.

  Lowell and his followers were quick to try to assign the identity to him, although they discovered even faster that the planetoid was far from fulfilling what was expected.  Thus, the search for "Planet X" continued with less and less force until 2016. Then, two astronomers from the California Institute of Technology, Michael E. Brown and Konstantin Batygin, contributed a series of data that would explain the existence of the "mysterious planet 9".

  How do you discover something that isn't noticed?

  The main difficulty of his job was to see something that cannot... be seen.  For Brown and Batygin, this object must exist due to the peculiar orbits of two groups of Kuiper belt objects.  Since then, Brown and Batygin have been actively involved in the search for the planet, observing distant dark trans-Neptunian objects.

 They are asteroids beyond Neptune, as the name suggests, and their existence tells us a lot about the origin of our solar system.  For the researchers, the deviation observed in many objects in the Kuiper belt, a region located beyond the orbit of Neptune, to thirty astronomical units, indicates the existence of a planet.

 This is deduced from calculations that indicate a disturbance, they explained in 2016. A huge planet, they commented, about two or four times the diameter of the Earth, would have been the culprit.  Thus, from the observation of other objects, one deduces the existence of one that we cannot see.  Space stuff.  But how successful were these two researchers?

  This could be 2015 TG387 in reality (not planet 9)

  The Goblin, named after the 2015 first acronym TG387 (T and G, The Goblin), has an elongated and very distant orbit.  Due to the nature of its closest neighbors, researchers believe that it is a dwarf planet, with a diameter of around 300 kilometers.

  As explained in the study, the closest point on its orbit is 68 times larger than that between Earth and the Sun, and at the farthest point that number would reach 2,300 times.  This makes it the third sednoid discovered so far, a trans-Neptunian object with a perihelion greater than 50 AU.  It also implies that our neighbor never gets close enough to interact with giants like Neptune or Jupiter, so it follows its orbit calmly, undisturbed by anyone.

 All that said, there remains one question to be answered: are we facing Planet 9?  Of course, we know we're not looking at Planet X. According to Lowell's estimates, this 2015 TG387 is a small part of its mass.  And from Planet 9?  In fact, some of the data provided by Batygin and Brown do not match what was predicted in their model.


  The Goblin appears to be a dwarf planet, and although its orbit matches many astronomical predictions, it is difficult to attribute to it all the disturbances observed in objects other than Neptune.  So everything indicates that we haven't found the ninth planet yet.  At least this discovery will serve to continue looking for him.

  "So far, we've covered about 25% of the most likely areas ​​where we could find Planet X, and we expect to reach 60% by the end of the year," said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution and a leading search explorer. of "Planet X".

  For this scientist, the discovery brings us one step closer to the mysterious planet.  However, we must keep looking if we are to find our lost neighbor.  A planet that may be slowly spinning far, far away in the darkest reaches of our solar system.

 And how do you see it?  Why is it so hard to find planet X?  Does he exist?  So where is planet X?  

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