Nearly 140 new minor planets are discovered beyond Neptune that could help find the Planet Nine


Nearly 140 new minor planets are discovered beyond Neptune that scientists hope will help track down the mysterious Planet Nine

  • Experts found 316 minor planets and determined 139 haven’t been documented
  • The team took the first four years of that data from the Dark Energy Survey 
  • Then they applied new techniques to spot objects moving across the sky 
  • A dataset of 7 billion objects was first gathered, then 22 million and then 400 
  • Researchers applied more filters until they found the new 139 minor planets  

Scientists have identified nearly 140 new minor planets in the darkness just beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The new findings were made after searching through data gathered by the Dark Energy Survey (DES) – a project focused on investigating the dynamics of the universe’s expansion by mapping the southern sky.

Researchers found a total of 316 minor planets in the data and determined 139 had not been documented before.

These objects ranged in distance from about 30 astronomical units (AU), which is close to Neptune’s orbit, right out to over 90 AU.

Those involved with the study have not only applied a new approach in finding planets, but also believes it will aid future searches for the mysterious Planet Nine.

Scientists have identified nearly 140 new minor planets in the darkness just beyond Neptune’s orbit. These objects ranged in distance from about 30 astronomical units (AU), which is close to Neptune’s orbit, right out to over 90 AU

The Dark Energy Survey uses technology to map galaxies, detect supernova and find patters of cosmic structures that help experts learn about the expansion of our universe.

It collected infrared and near-infrared data of the southern sky from 2013 through 2019.

A University of Pennsylvania graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli said: ‘Dedicated TNO [trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs)] surveys have a way of seeing the object move, and it’s easy to track them down.’

‘One of the key things we did in this paper was figure out a way to recover those movements.’

Using the first four years of DES data and high-tech software, the team started with a dataset of seven billion ‘dots’ that represented possible objects detected by the software.

The Dark Energy Survey uses technology to map galaxies, detect supernova and find patters of cosmic structures that help experts learn about the expansion of our universe. Pictured is the Dark Energy Survey's camera mounted on the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile

The Dark Energy Survey uses technology to map galaxies, detect supernova and find patters of cosmic structures that help experts learn about the expansion of our universe. Pictured is the Dark Energy Survey’s camera mounted on the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile

Using the first four years of DES data and high-tech software, the team started with a dataset of seven billion 'dots' that represented possible objects detected by the software. And then the team cut back to just 400 candidates that were spotted over at least six nights of observation and then 139. Picutured is an up close shot of the Dark Energy's camera

Using the first four years of DES data and high-tech software, the team started with a dataset of seven billion ‘dots’ that represented possible objects detected by the software. And then the team cut back to just 400 candidates that were spotted over at least six nights of observation and then 139. Picutured is an up close shot of the Dark Energy’s camera

Then objects that were present on numerous nights were eliminated, which includes stars, galaxies and supernova – narrowing down the list to 22 million.

And then the team cut back to just 400 candidates that were spotted over at least six nights of observation.

To filter their list of candidates down to actual TNOs, which are planets located in the far reaches of the solar system, the team identified 139 objects that have never been seen before.

These objects ranged in distance from about 30 astronomical units (AU), which is close to Neptune’s orbit, right out to over 90 AU.

According to the researchers involved, they believe the new way of using TNOs to find planets could help aid their mission to hunt down the elusive Planet Nine.

Planet Nine was first theorised by experts at Caltech in 2016 when they spotted that a group of icy objects on the edges of the solar system have tilted orbits.

They suggested the orbits of these lumps of ice – so-called Trans-Neptune objects (TNOs) – were warped by the gravitational pull of a ninth planet in the solar system.

The objects had elliptical orbits that pointed in the same direction and were tilted 30 degrees ‘downward’ compared to the plane in which planets circle the sun.

While Planet Nine has never been spotted, a number of astronomers – including scientists at NASA – have since released research that supports the theory.

WHAT IS MYSTERIOUS ‘PLANET X’?

Astronomers believe that the orbits of a number of bodies in the distant reaches of the solar system have been disrupted by the pull of an as yet unidentified planet.

First proposed by a group at CalTech in the US, this alien world was theorised to explain the distorted paths seen in distant icy bodies.

In order to fit in with the data they have, this alien world – popularly called Planet Nine – would need to be roughly four time the size of Earth and ten times the mass.

Researchers say a body of this size and mass would explain the clustered paths of a number of icy minor planets beyond Neptune.

First proposed by a group at CalTech in the US, this alien world was theorised to explain the distorted paths seen in distant icy bodies.

First proposed by a group at CalTech in the US, this alien world was theorised to explain the distorted paths seen in distant icy bodies.

Its huge orbit would mean it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make a single pass around the sun. 

The theoretical Planet Nine is based on the gravitational pull it exerts on these bodies, with astronomers confident it will be found in the coming years.

Those hoping for theoretical Earth-sized planets proposed by astrologers or science fiction writers – which are ‘hiding behind the sun’ and linked with Doomsday scenarios – may have to keep searching.

 

Leave a Comment