Is Planet 9 Causing Our Solar System to Wobble?

Posted October 20th, 2016 at 4:19 pm (UTC-4)
2 comments

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

A new study from researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that Planet 9, the huge and so far unseen planet said to be lurking in the far reaches of the solar system, might be causing our group of planets to wobble a little and giving an impression that the sun is slightly tilted.

Elizabeth Bailey, lead author of the new study, points out the planets in our solar system orbit in a relatively flat plane with the sun.

But she says that plane rotates at a six-degree angle, making the sun look like its actually tilted.

Our solar system features eight planets, seen in this artist’s diagram. (NASA/JPL)

Our solar system features eight planets, seen in this artist’s diagram. (NASA/JPL)

She and her colleagues assert in their study that the enigmatic Planet Nine is so massive and has such a lopsided orbit compared to the other planets, that our solar system can’t help but slowly twist itself out of alignment.

Astronomers have long been puzzled by this tilt of the orbital plane, especially because of how the planets are said to have been formed.

The most popular theory among scientists is the ‘protoplanet hypothesis’ (pdf), which suggests the planets were eventually formed from a rotating cloud of gas and dust left over from the creation of the sun.  Over time, gravity caused the cloud particles to gather and accumulate into objects such as planets.

“It’s such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don’t talk about it,” says Mike Brown, a Professor of Planetary Astronomy at Caltech in a press release.

Brown, along with his Caltech colleague Konstantin Batygin, caused quite a stir in the scientific community back in January after they uncovered evidence of the mysterious Planet 9.

The evidence of Planet 9 gathered by Brown and Batygin suggest that it has a mass that’s about 10 times more than Earth and 5,000 times that of Pluto.

Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of "Planet Nine". (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of “Planet Nine”. (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

It is also thought to orbit the sun from a distance of nearly 20 times farther than Neptune, whose average distance to the sun is about 4.5 billion kilometers.

They added that their mathematical modeling and computer simulations indicated that it would take Planet 9 between 10,000 and 20,000 years just to make one complete orbit around the sun.

Brown says that with the theorized size and distance of the giant mystery planet, the six degree tilt in the orbital plane fits perfectly, mathematically.

“It continues to amaze us; every time we look carefully we continue to find that Planet 9 explains something about the solar system that had long been a mystery,” says Batygin.

Astronomers continue to scan the skies in hopes of actually spotting and imaging Planet 9.

Video: Planet Nine Tilts the Sun! Q&A with Caltech Astronomers (Caltech)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

2 responses to “Is Planet 9 Causing Our Solar System to Wobble?”

  1. Augustine Basnayake says:

    A very interesting hypothesis! thanks for the ‘food for theought’ !

  2. Ntokozo Ngwenya says:

    Thanks for the information