If you haven’t found Planet Nine yet – and we’re assuming we would have heard about it if you did – then perhaps the map released a few weeks ago isn’t up to Google snuff. Fortunately, another guide has just been announced and it follows a trail of newly discovered trans-Neptunian objects so far away, their solar orbits are described as extremely extreme. Something is affecting them more than the gravitational pull of Neptune. Will they lead to Planet Nine?
“This catalog has 817 confirmed objects (461 first discovered in this work). This is the second largest TNO catalog from a single survey to date, as well as the largest catalog with multi-band photometry.”
It had better be good – this new catalog of Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNO) used six years of data from the Dark Energy Survey – an astronomical survey using the Dark Energy Camera which was designed to take images in the near-ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared spectrums to measure the expansion of the Universe, taking advantage of a wide field of view and high sensitivity. The DES ran from 2013 to 2019 and its data was found to contain far more than needed for its initial purpose. In this case, a large team of researchers led by lead authors of the paper (preprint at arXiv), University of Pennsylvania cosmologist Gary Bernstein and University of Washington postdoctoral scholar Pedro Bernardinelli, found 815 TNOs and added 461 to the list of over 3,000 identified so far.
According to Science Alert, all of the new TNOs are at least 30 AU away (AU = 93 million miles or the distance from the Earth to the sun). Some are in the Kuiper Belt with dwarf planets Pluto and Eris at about 30 AUs and 50 AUs. However, the capability of the Dark Energy Camera was shown with the discovery of nine known as extreme trans-Neptunian objects that are at least 150 AUs from the sun. Of those, four are extremely extreme TNOs at 230 AUs. Those four are the ones showing behavior that suggests they’re being pulled by Planet Nine. Since the data from the Dark Energy Survey they used contains 20% of all currently-known TNOs and covers only one-eight of the sky, that identifies a clear path to Planet Nine.
Skeptics say the strange orbits of the four extremely extreme TNOs are nothing more than statistical anomalies, while another group of astronomers has previously proposed that the gravitational pull is coming from a massive amount of tiny objects, possibly from one destroyed planet (could be Nine but there’s no proof), working together.
There’s only one way to find out – follow the extremely extremes. Fortunately, the researchers are making their data available.
“These will be valuable for further detailed statistical tests of formation models for the trans-Neptunian region.”
What are you waiting for – go find Planet Nine!