The search for Planet Nine – a hypothesized 9th planet in our solar system – may require looking at telescope images at different light.
Based on mathematical calculations, scientists have predicted there may be a ninth planet in our solar system. But no one has ever observed the mysterious planet.
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Now, researchers have brought a new method to search for distant objects lurking in the darkest corners of space.
In the hunt for Planet Nine, two Yale astronomers are using a new method called shifting and stacking.
The new technique scoops up scattered light from thousands of space telescope images and identifies a trail of orbital pathways for previously undetected objects in an incredibly dark corner of space, 12 to 23 times farther from the sun than Pluto.
Scientists have already used the technique to discover some moons in our solar system. This could potentially spot Planet Nine — also known as Planet X, Giant Planet Five, or Planet Next.
“You really can’t see them without using this kind of method,” Malena Rice, an astronomy Ph.D. student at Yale University in Connecticut, said in a statement. “If Planet Nine is out there, it’s going to be incredibly dim.”
Rice is the lead author of a new study that put the method into action. She and co-author Greg Laughlin, an astronomy professor at Yale, shifted and stacked images captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which hunts for alien worlds from Earth orbit.
The scientists presented the new method at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences on Tuesday. It forms the basis of a paper accepted for publication by The Planetary Science Journal.
Over four years ago, Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown announced their hypothesis for the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system.
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Researchers have found patterns of objects in the Kuiper Belt that support the idea of the existence of Planet Nine. And the way those objects clump together, suggests that gravity from something big out there is tugging on them.
The Kuiper Belt is a doughnut-shaped region of icy objects around the Sun. It extends just beyond the orbit of Neptune from about 30 to 55 astronomical units (AU).
Planet 9 may take between 10,000 and 20,000 Earth years to complete one orbit around the Sun, according to NASA.
If the mysterious object exists, it is too far away from the Sun. That means the sunlight reflecting from its surface would be so faint to detect with traditional methods.
However, the researchers tested their new method by successfully searching for light signals of three known trans-Neptunian objects (TNO). TNOs are minor planets or dwarf planets that rotate around the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Next, they conducted a blind search of two distant patches of sky that might reveal Planet Nine and detected 17 new TNO candidates.
“If even one of these candidate objects is real, it would help us to understand the dynamics of the outer solar system and the likely properties of Planet Nine,” Rice said. “It’s compelling new information.”
Rice added that she remains “agnostic” about the existence of Planet Nine and wants to focus on the data.
“It would be beautiful if it’s out there,” Rice said.
The researchers are currently working to confirm the 17 candidate TNOs, using imagery captured by ground-based telescopes.