A group of scientists from University of Bern, Switzerland, sifted through all available data on Planet 9 and issued a theory on how the distant space rock may look like.
According to their theory, Planet 9, formerly known as Planet X before Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status, is a rocky icy world shrouded in a thick layer of helium and hydrogen.
Scientists have long suspected that an unknown planet may inhabit the outskirts of our solar system due to gravitational disturbances observed in the crowded Kuiper Belt. Some space rocks within the belt follow bizarre paths that cannot be explained otherwise than through a Planet 9. But how that hypothetical planet may look like or what features it may have remained largely a mystery until now.
Swiss scientists believe that their computer models can accurately simulate Planet 9, if it exists. They drew inspiration for their work from Caltech’s January discovery of a group of space rocks in the Kuiper Belt with a strange orbit. Caltech astronomers concluded in a study that the orbit may be caused by a mystery object that has a strong gravitational influence on the objects.
The same theory was put forward when planet Neptune’s existence was first hypothesized in 1846. Back then, astronomers noticed uncommon disturbances in the motions of nearby space objects.
The latest study shows that Planet 9’s orbit may vary from 200 Astronomical Units (AU) – an AU is the equivalent of the Earth-Sun distance – to 1,200 AU at the planet’s farthest point from the Sun. This makes Planet 9 even farther than dwarf planet Eris with its 100 AU. Planet Eris, which was found in 2005, prompted international scientists to downgrade the then-planet Pluto to dwarf planet.
Because Esther Linder and Christoph Mordasini from University of Bern didn’t have direct observations on Planet 9 at their disposal, they used available information on other similar objects from other solar systems.
Scientists also calculated how massive Planet 9 may be based on the gravitational pull it has on other space objects. The mysterious planet could be about 10 times larger than our planet, or a mini-Uranus, i.e. a world with a solid core but wrapped in a thick layer of gas.
After using existing theoretical data on Planet Nine’s orbit, mass, size, and distance from the sun, Swiss astronomers estimated how warm the world may be, and what type of atmosphere it may have.
Scientists estimate that the average surface temperature should be -226 degrees Celsius, which is rather ‘warm’ for the outer reaches of our solar system. The research team believes that the planet is warmer than other space rocks in the area because of its molten but hot core that dissipates heat across the planet.
Image Source: Newstarget