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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Planet 9: No, not Pluto

Kuiper Belt Object       (NASA photo)

Ah… the shame of it all.  Not only has Pluto been demoted from planet to dwarf planet, but there’s currently talk of it being replaced.

Having long held the title “Planet 9,” Pluto now has to make way for some big intruder out there.  This suspected planetary body is thought to have “ten times the mass of Earth.”  It is so far away from the sun that one revolution takes 20,000 years.

So how do we know it’s even out there?     Short answer:  We don’t.  Longer answer:  We think that it is because of aligned KBOs.  In other words, six Kuiper Belt objects were recently found to have matching perihelions (closest approaches to the sun). 

These perihelions were so similar in “distance and in the angle of the orbit relative to the horizon of the solar system” that coincidence seems out of the question.  Astronomers are instead convinced that it is “the influence of a passing object that herds the KBOs together.”

This passing object could very well be the new (to us) Planet 9.  So grab a telescope and look skyward.  If you spot it, call Caltech.  Who knows?  Planet 9’s highest mountain might then be named after you.   


Copyright January 21, 2016 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


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