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8 or 9 planets? The solar system still holds many mysteries

Work by American researchers brings us even closer to the famous hypothetical ninth planet in our solar system.

A few years ago, a pair of astronomers threw a stone in the pond by announcing that they had spotted the traces of a ninth planet in the solar system. But since then, radio silence. No one has, to this day, succeeded in making a direct observation of this hypothetical celestial body. But of new work spotted by Future could well allow to approach it considerably.

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma have thus carried out a series ofhuge models different solar system evolution scenarios over several billion years. They obviously included the known planets, but also a large number of particles representing objects from the Kuiper Belt disk. And, surprise, only one of these models resulted in the solar system with 8 planets that we know today! All the others, on the other hand, have concluded that the famous Planet Nine.

In the models in question, the researchers noticed that many transneptunian objects (known as OTN) tended to agglomerate in rather particular orbits. In the nine-planet simulations, they were each time tilted slightly relative to that of Earth, and 40 to 50 times farther away. However, this was not the case for the simulation which resulted in eight planets. According to the researchers, this confirms the very real probability to have a ninth planet in this area.

Why is she so difficult to observe?

But the challenge remains to locate this planet, to confirm its existence indisputably. However, observing objects at this distance is extremely difficult, especially when you do not know where to look. Researchers always have to compromise between two extremes. Either they use a broad approach, but with low precision, thus taking the risk of missing interesting objects. Conversely, it is also possible to observe a restricted area with great precision. But this much longer technique could make us miss the famous Planet Nine if it is outside this field of view.

Even with advanced equipment, searching for objects so far away is impossible without solid clues. ©: Hubble / NASA / ESA.

Thanks to this study, astronomers nevertheless have very interesting clues about its possible position. They now have a fairly clear idea of ​​the area on which to aim their instruments. “It is a very beautiful study which produces forecasts that can be verified directly by observation.”Says Kat Volk, an independent planetologist in the study interviewed by PhysicsWorld. “These predictions are essential for testing the different scenarios offered on Planet Nine.”, She adds.

In the years to come, astronomers will therefore scan this area of ​​the sky in the hope of seeing a possible ninth planet. But even knowing roughly where to look, the task looks very complicated. Before hoping to observe it directly, they will however be able to study this agglomeration of OTN from all angles. And with a little luck, this time they will find indisputable proof that will allow them to finally draw the portrait at Planet Nine.

The full text of the study is available here.

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