Known for his controversial campaign to demote Pluto and strip it of its planet status, astronomer Dr. Michael Brown of Caltech is making headlines again. This time the astronomer has a much more favorable proposal that hints at the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. Regarded with interest by the astronomy community, Brown’s idea recently received support from an unrelated SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project that discovered a large celestial object in the predicted location of this mysterious ninth planet.
The proposed planet (which for now is just called “planet nine”) is too far away to be seen with current telescopes — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be detected via other methods. Brown focused on gravitation influence, recently presenting data that shows an unexpected orbital pattern in several solar system outer members. These six Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) all have unusual orbits when they approach the sun. Despite having different orbital lengths, all six objects come towards the sun on the same side, in the same orbital plane and at similar distances. More than just a coincidence, Brown believes these aberrations are the result of this ninth planet, whose elongated orbit brings its gravity influence in proximity to these celestial objects.
Brown’s case for the existence of the ninth planet was met with a fair amount of skepticism at first, but his theory was recently bolstered by an announcement given during a SETI Colloquium. At this meeting, a team of researchers presented information on a new Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) with an orbit of 30 and 50 AUs (Astronomical Units), where one AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. According to a tweet by Brown, the new KBO is “exactly where planet nine says it should be.”
Astronomers are interested in Brown’s proposal, but the community is taking a conservative response to his claim as it is based on the sometimes unreliable measurement of gravitation influence. This is not the first time a scientist has claimed to have found a new planet using this technique. Previous astronomers have used similar gravitational observations to predict the presence of other planets, but all of these claims have turned out to be false.