New Objects Discovered on Outskirts of Solar System

Image Credit: Joyce McCown

Astronomers studying the outer reaches of our solar system have discovered some new objects recently, and their behavior raises questions about just what’s at play in our solar system.

Meet L91

One of the major discoveries is a small icy body that takes an incredible 20,000-year to orbit our sun, which scientists refer to as L91. At a distance of 1430 astronomical units, the icy rock has one of the longest orbits of any object yet discovered, and never gets nearer to the Sun than 50 astronomical units, making it even further away than Pluto whose average distance is 39.5 AU. Scientists have also been baffled by the fact that the orbit of L91 has been changing, and while the movements are minute, scientific teams are hard pressed to discover what exactly is causing these movements to happen.

Other Discoveries

L91 may be the biggest object to be discovered by astronomers recently, but it’s not the only new thing that’s been spotted. We also now know that there are several icy bodies near the planet Neptune, including 2014 FE72, which is believed to have originated from the Oort Cloud. Like L91, 2014 FE72 and its neighbors have irregular orbits that seem to be influenced by some other force.

The Case for Planet Nine

When you consider the behavior of both the icy bodies off Neptune and L91, it begs the question of whether or not an undiscovered planet may be responsible for the unusual gravitational patterns observed by astronomers. Against this backdrop, for years some scientists have been in favor of expanding the number of planets in our solar system, but not to include Pluto again, but to add a new world, which has been dubbed Planet Nine.

While we do not have any photographic proof of the planet, theories about its existence are based on the observed behavior of other bodies in the solar system. L91 and 2014 FE72 are just two of the latest examples of objects exhibiting behaviors that could be linked to the gravitational pull of a planet that we’ve yet to locate. Needless to say, many other scientists remain sceptical over the existence of Planet Nine, but as more and more bodies like L91 and 2014 FE72 are discovered and found to be exhibiting similar abnormalities in their orbits, it becomes harder and harder to completely discount the idea that there may be another planet out there waiting to be discovered within our own solar system.

While scientists continue to study newfound objects in the sky, it will likely be years or even decades before they fully understand what they are seeing. And who knows what new questions will be uncovered tomorrow as the quest continues to discover what lies at the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond.

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