The hunt for Planet X turns up a new solar system object

05 October, 2018, 00:35 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • A look at the relative distance of 2015 TG387.                  Roberto Molar Candanosa  Scott Sheppard  Carnegie Institution for Science

"These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X", said the study's lead author, Scott Sheppard, in a statement.

Only a few known objects in our solar system have comparable orbits, such as dwarf planets 2012 VP113 (nickname: Biden) and Sedna.

This is the third dwarf planet recently found to be orbiting on the frigid fringes of our solar system.

When The Goblin was spotted it was extremely far off from the Sun, at well over twice the distance from the star as Pluto, and its orbit is stretched in an oblong shape that takes it up to 2,300 times as far from the Sun as Earth is.

Becker says astronomers have only found a handful of objects in addition to The Goblin that point to the existence of Planet Nine, so there is considerable skepticism that it's really out there.

2015 TG387 was discovered about 80 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. Pluto is about 34 AU from the sun, so 2015 TG387 is two and a half times farther from the sun than the former ninth planet. Pluto, by comparison, is approximately between 30 and 50 AU.

Washington, DC-Carnegie's Scott Sheppard and his colleagues-Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo, and the University of Hawaii's David Tholen-are once again redefining our Solar System's edge.


The two other dwarf planets are Sedna, discovered in 2003, which is about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) across, and 2012 VP113, about 310 miles (500 kilometers). Astronomers have narrowed down the search area for Planet Nine but have not yet found it. This gravitational shepherding could explain why the most-distant objects in our Solar System have similar orbits. The location in the sky where 2015 TG387 reaches perihelion is similar to 2012 VP113, Sedna, and most other known extremely distant trans-Neptunian objects, suggesting that something is pushing them into similar types of orbits.

The object, a 200-mile-wide rock with the rather inelegant name of 2015 TG387, is about 7.9 billion miles from the sun. "We are only seeing the tip of the ice berg", Sheppard said in an email. Sheppard wrote in an article for Nature in 2014 that objects like the Goblin would move in a particular way to avoid a possible "Planet Nine".

A dwarf planet, nicknamed "The Goblin" by astronomers, has been discovered well beyond Pluto, offering a tantalising glimpse of the workings of our outer solar system. The AP is exclusively responsible for all content.

The researchers were able to detect the Goblin in the first place because they're using the Japanese Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, one of the largest telescopes in the world and the most powerful survey telescope due to its large field of view. She says the current models of planetary formation that don't explain The Goblin could be wrong, but "an easier solution is the existence of Planet Nine, because it naturally creates these objects in the solar system". In other words, it takes around 40,000 Earth years for it to travel once around the Sun, University of Hawaii's David Tholen said, adding that "there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the Solar System's fringes, but their distance makes finding them very hard".

Planet X is thought to be four times the size of earth.

'They can be used as probes to understand what is happening at the edge of our solar system'.

Trujillo and University of Oklahoma's Nathan Kaib ran computer simulations to see how different hypothetical Planet X orbits would affect the orbit of 2015 TG387. Batygin, in a 2016 paper in the Astronomical Journal, estimated Planet Nine would be up to 10 times as massive as Earth. Opening Goblin indirectly confirms that this region may be a big planet - it is under the gravitational influence of a large object that is not visible yet.

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