139 New Minor Planets Beyond Neptune May Lead Us to Planet Nine!

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A Smorgasbord of New Minor Planets May Lead Us to the Mysterious Ninth Planet… Sorry, Pluto.

Pluto really does seem to be the orphan stepchild of our solar system. Constantly known as last in line. Then, in 2006, stripped of its planetary status. After that, to add insult to injury, astronomers started talking about finding another “ninth planet.” They had a perfectly reasonable one (I mean, sure, he was a runt and all…), and they threw him away to find a “real” planet at the edge of the solar system instead. Now, 139 new minor planets may serve as a trail to help astronomers find that theoretical ninth planet of their dreams. Bummer, Pluto. That’s just a real bummer, man. For what it’s worth, however, I still think you’re pretty cool. (It is like -400 degrees there, after all.)

The Fuss over Minor Planets

Scaled map of the solar system (NASA)

Astronomers studying trans-Neptunian objects, or TNOs, recently reported the discovery of 139 new minor planets beyond the orbit of Neptune. They’re past our currently known outermost planet, but they’re still very much a part of our heliosphere. What’s a heliosphere, you ask? That’s the sphere of influence our sun’s gravity has in the galaxy. Beyond our heliosphere, our sun doesn’t impact the orbits or trajectories of any objects in any significant way. 

You can see from the illustration (provided by NASA) that there’s an awful lot of space between Neptune and the edge of the heliosphere. That space, it turns out is full of TNOs. Many are minor planets, roughly the size of Pluto. Others are large asteroids, meteors, and comets. However, the peculiar orbits of these TNOs gave rise to the notion that there must be a heretofore undiscovered ninth planet.

Here’s a Video on Planet Nine As Well:

The evidence seems clear that there’s something out there. This is the crux of what makes science fantastic. We’re constantly updating our models with new evidence. Sure, scientists are human, and they make mistakes, but the beauty of the scientific method is that eventually, with enough scientists and enough time, human errors always get rooted out. 

For decades, even centuries, we thought Pluto was a planet. Then the evidence showed that it really didn’t behave the same way other planets in our solar system do. It doesn’t clear away other objects in its neighboring region, therefore, it’s too small to be a full planet. So we reclassified it as a dwarf planet. 

On the other hand, there does appear to be an object out there that is clearing its little cosmic neighborhood. And when those new minor planets help us find it, it’ll be one hell of a discovery. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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2 Responses

  1. I can’t freakin’ wait until they finally discover the ninth planet! It’s gonna be amazing!

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