Tantalizing new hints of Planet X beyond Pluto

Volk and Malhotra are hoping that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, set to begin operation in 2020, will unlock the mystery of missing Planet X.

Jeremy Morrow | Jun 24, 2017

A new analysis of the Kuiper Belt by astronomers at the University of Arizona is raising the intriguing possibility that a ninth planet, also known as Planet X, is hiding beyond Pluto.

The results are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Researchers found that the orbital planes of several rings of asteroids and other frozen bodies beyond Neptune are tilted off axis by about 8 degrees. This suggests the orbits are being affected by the gravity of a large mass possibly Planet X.

"The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass," said astronomer Kat Volk of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, in a statement. "According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured."

The rocky and icy bodies or Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) are unstable and not in smooth orbits like planets. But astronomers can locate a pattern by averaging their orbital orientation.

"Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge," said researcher Renu Malhotra. "If you then take a snapshot of them you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth."

Volk and Malhotra are hoping that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, set to begin operation in 2020, will unlock the mystery of missing Planet X.

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