Astronomers want to know what’s out there beyond the orbit of Pluto, the tiny world that once was deemed a full-fledged planet but now is classified with the non-PC designation of a “dwarf planet.” Specifically, they want to know whether, far past Pluto’s orbit, the gigantic and provocatively named “Planet X” lurks in the dark interstellar void. And now they are beginning to find evidence that suggests that Planet X may actually exist.
In 2015, researchers at Caltech concluded that there was mathematical evidence that there was a “Planet X” that followed a long, elongated orbit at the far outer reaches of the solar system. The Caltech team used data about the unique orbits of certain objects in the solar system, applied advanced equations and computer simulations, and hypothesized that the orbits were being affected by the gravity of a large planet with a mass about 10 times the mass of Earth that followed an orbit about 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune. The hypothetical planet was called “Planet X,” or “Planet 9.” (Either planet name, in my view, would fit well in the title of a ’50s sci-fi thriller beginning with The Creature From . . . .) The hypothetical planet won’t get an official name, by the way, until it is actually discovered and its existence is confirmed.
So far, there is no visual evidence that Planet X exists. This week, however, astronomers from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced that they have verified the existence of a 200-mile wide rock orbiting billions of miles beyond the orbit of Pluto. They found the object using telescopes in Hawaii, Chile, and Arizona, and the existence of the object is consistent with the Planet X theory. In fact, one of the astronomers said: “These distant objects are like bread crumbs leading us to Planet X.”
The Bread Crumbs Leading To Planet X wouldn’t be a bad name for a sci-fi thriller, either. Either way, it’s good to know that scientists are out there looking for evidence of whether we should add a long-lost, distant cousin to our solar system family.