Just when you were finally getting used to the idea of the existence of a massive and remote Planet Nine, astronomers have looked over the calculations, made some adjustments and now believe that there may be at least two more far-flung planets in our solar system – Planet Ten and Planet Eleven. Does this mean we should be preparing for three apocalyptic events instead of just one?
Earlier this year, astronomer from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) came up with their evidence for Planet Nine by showing that the unusual orbits of six large objects and dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt could only be caused by another large, remote planet. Independent Spanish astronomer Carlos de la Fuente Marcos looked at the movements of these six ETNOs [extreme trans-Neptunian objects] and speculated something more was causing their instabilities.
That is to say we believe that in addition to a Planet Nine, there could also be a Planet Ten and even more.
In his report in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, Marcos and astronomers Raúl and Sverre J. Aarseth from the University of Cambridge believe that a single Planet Nine would actually make the orbits even more unstable than the already are. That means one or possibly two more remote planets are exerting gravitational forces to counterbalance Planet Nine and bring some stability to the ETNOs. Hence Planets Ten and Eleven.
Of course, the CalTech team has a rebuttal, in this case from astronomer Mike ‘The Pluto Killer’ Brown, one of the originators of the Planet Nine theory.
I think it's way too early to start speculating about a second planet, but, in general, I am confused by their results. We have a nearly identical analysis which shows nearly the opposite result. It is not obvious to me why they would get such a different answer.
Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, wants everyone to calm down about Nine, Ten, Eleven, X or whatever you call them.
The possibility of a new planet is certainly an exciting one for me as a planetary scientist and for all of us. This is not, however, the detection or discovery of a new planet. It’s too early to say with certainty there’s a so-called Planet X. What we’re seeing is an early prediction based on modeling from limited observations. It’s the start of a process that could lead to an exciting result.
Has Marcos jumped the gun? Should he check his figures again? Does Brown need to back off and let some other astronomers look for a Planet Nine and beyond?
In this game of Solar System Scrabble, are we about to see a triple planet score?