The hunt for an alleged mysterious ninth planet (no, not Pluto, the other one) keeps taking strange turns. It all began when astronomers began detecting unexplained anomalies in the orbits of distant planets and objects in our Solar System. These anomalies implied that an unknown massive object was exerting gravitational forces on these objects, prompting astronomers to search for and identify several possible candidates for an alleged Planet 9 (or Planet X, depending on who you ask).
While the possible existence of such a planet is still up in the air, that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from launching all sorts of speculation about the role of such a planet in apocalyptic doomsday events. As usual, though, the proposed dates for such a planetary collision have come and gone several times without incident.
Now, the hunt for the mysterious ninth planet has gone a step further as a pair of astronomers and bona fide Planet X hunters believe they have found some of the most tantalizing evidence yet for the planet’s existence. The California Institute of Technology’s Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin of the University of Côte d’Azur published the first evidence of Planet X in early 2016, and they’ve continued their search ever since.
Their latest study was actually a meta-study, meaning it analyzed and examined every other study and piece of evidence concerning Planet 9/X. After poring over every bit of data out there, Brown and Batygin now believe that Planet 9 not only exists, but is key to explaining some of the essential features of our Solar System:
There are now five different lines of observational evidence pointing to the existence of Planet Nine. If you were to remove this explanation and imagine Planet Nine does not exist, then you generate more problems than you solve. All of a sudden, you have five different puzzles, and you must come up with five different theories to explain them.
In their mind-bogglingly-technical recent publication, Batygin and Brown specifically state that a ninth planet might be the only known phenomenon that could explain the tilt, or obliquity, of the Sun:
While a multitude of processes could have contributed to the observed obliquity of the sun, the gravitational influence of Planet Nine provides the only dynamical mechanism that is directly testable.
Of course, it will take many more years of scanning the cosmos before any of these hypotheses can be confirmed, or we might need better instruments that have yet to be invented. Just as we look back upon the first telescopes and star charts as early steps in a long process leading us to today’s technology, future astronomers will chuckle with adoration at our current space telescopes and probes once future astronomers discover methods of transportation and data collection beyond the wildest dreams of today. Who knows what other wonders we’ll uncover right here in our own cosmic backyard?