How many planets are there in the solar system? If you went to school prior to the 2000s, you’re likely to quickly respond with, “Nine”, but the answer is not as clear cut as many of us were taught back then. For years, astronomers that had intensely debated whether or not the ninth planet is actually a planet at all officially stripped Pluto of its status in 2006, thus leaving just eight planets in our solar system.
Nevertheless, not all scientists agree that Pluto deserved the proverbial demotion, and now there are even some scientists who believe that there is a different as of yet undiscovered planet located in our solar system. If their assumption is true, it would be only the third discovery of a planet since ancient times, with Uranus having been discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781, Neptune by John Couch Adams in 1846, and Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.
The so-called Planet 9 is estimated to be very distant from the Sun, and if it actually exists would take up to 20,000 years to complete one full orbit, making for a very long year! The New Horizons probe sent to investigate Pluto took about 9 years to reach the celestial body. The planet referred to as Planet 9 is so distant from us that it would take a similar probe 50 years to reach it.
Researchers at CalTech are adamant than Planet 9 does exist. They posit that the planet is an ice giant, a planet similar in composition to Neptune and Uranus. They estimate the planet is about 10 times the size of the Earth, and that its orbit is 20 times wider than that of the eighth planet Neptune. The position of the proposed planet leads researchers to believe that Planet 9 would have an atmosphere comprised of helium and hydrogen.
In addition, the researchers believe that the planet has tremendous gravity pull and believe it to be the causes of disturbances that occur in the Kuiper Belt, an area that contains asteroids, comets and other celestial bodies formed out of ice. It was actually the observance of these irregular behaviors that led the CalTech researchers to begin looking for the 9th planet. They insist that there is nothing that could cause the observed phenomena but the gravitational interference of a large planet.
The discovery of Planet 9 was made through the use of sophisticated data modeling done with the help of advanced computers. NASA has so far been unwilling to confirm the existence of the planet, stating that they could not do so until there was an image to verify its existence.
It will likely be a long time before the type of evidence needed to satisfy the officials at NASA could be produced. Although the calculations produced by the CalTech team are sound, they do not provide information about where the planet’s actual orbit might be located. As a result, it will be difficult at this point to locate the planet in the midst of its long journey around the Sun in order to obtain a photograph of it.