The Seduction of the (Planet) X


The search for the ninth planet in the Solar System is on.

Michael E. Brown, a researcher in planetary astronomy at Caltech is a servant of the 24th letter in the English alphabet, forever searching for the next big body in the Solar System, the yearned planet ‘X’.

You most certainly did not miss the recent news: there is strong evidence of a ninth planet in our cosmic neighborhood. Professor Brown is no stranger of making a splash, in the year 2001 he announced the discovery of Sedna, and shortly later of Haumea, Makemake and Eris. In 2006 he was one of the most vocal proponents of degrading Pluto to the ‘dwarf planet’ category, where Haumea, Makemake and Eris were admitted a few weeks later. Sedna, to its misfortune, was left outside this new hand-picked group.

Figure 1. An artist mockup of how the hypothetical Planet Nine looks like. Credit: Wikipedia.

The outsider, a cosmic body named after the Inuit goddess of the sea and the coldest known object in the Solar System, was ignored because it was guilty of having a highly elongated orbit. One of its biggest sins was to take 11,400 years to complete an orbit around the Sun. Soon enough it was suddenly joined in the nine circles of hell by other sinful cosmic souls: trans-Neptunian bodies 2004 VN112, 2010 GB174, 2007 TG422, 2013 RFS98 y 2012 VP113 (see Figure 2). These wandering rocks share a tiny size (up 400 miles in diameter, less than half of Pluto), their orbits never approach the Sun closer than the orbit of Neptune (this is, 30 times farther away than distance between Earth and the Sun), and of far greater interest, they share a common turnaround point in their orbit and slope compared to the rest of the planets in —> Read More