Artistic rendering shows the distant view from theoretical Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side.  Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Astronomers Find Theoretical Evidence for Distant Gas Giant Planet in Our Solar System

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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Artistic rendering shows the distant view from theoretical Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side.  Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Artistic rendering shows the distant view from theoretical Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

The astronomer known worldwide for vigorously promoting the demotion of Pluto from its decades long perch as the 9th Planet, has now found theoretical evidence for a new and very distant gas giant planet lurking way beyond Pluto out to the far reaches of our solar system.

In an obvious reference to the planethood controversy, the proposed new planet is nicknamed ‘Planet Nine’ and its absolutely huge!

The possible planet has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and is believed to be gaseous, like Uranus and Neptune, according to Mike Brown of Caltech, who became famous during the contentious debate on Pluto’s planetary status. He announced the new finding today, Jan. 20, along with fellow Caltech researcher Konstantin Batygin.

The giant new planet orbits the sun some 20 times farther out than Neptune in the distant reaches of the Kuiper Belt. Neptune orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles (4.5 Billion km).

Astronomers have been searching for decades for “Planet X” a large theorized planet beyond the orbit of Pluto. Pluto’s eccentric orbit ranges from 4.4–7.4 billion km.

The theorized ‘Planet Nine’ travels in a highly elongated path that takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete just one full orbit around the sun, according to Caltech statement describing the work.

The six most distant known objects in the solar system with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) all mysteriously line up in a single direction. Also, when viewed in three dimensions, they tilt nearly identically away from the plane of the solar system. Batygin and Brown show that a planet with 10 times the mass of the earth in a distant eccentric orbit anti-aligned with the other six objects (orange) is required to maintain this configuration.  Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC); [Diagram created using WorldWide Telescope.]

The six most distant known objects in the solar system with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) all mysteriously line up in a single direction. Also, when viewed in three dimensions, they tilt nearly identically away from the plane of the solar system. Batygin and Brown show that a planet with 10 times the mass of the earth in a distant eccentric orbit anti-aligned with the other six objects (orange) is required to maintain this configuration. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC); [Diagram created using WorldWide Telescope.]

Caltech astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin coauthored a paper describing their work on the discovery of the existence of the proposed gas giant in the current issue of the Astronomical Journal.

The paper is titled; “EVIDENCE FOR A DISTANT GIANT PLANET IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM” and is available here.

“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy, in a statement.

“There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It’s a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that’s still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting.”

So far there is no confirmation of the existence of the planet.

It has not actually been observed but its existence is theorized through complex mathematical modeling and computer simulations.

Brown’s discovery of Eris in 2005, which orbits farther out than Pluto and is almost the same size as Pluto but smaller, sparked the IAU to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006.

In 2010 Brown wrote a book about the planet debate titled; “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.”

Many planetary scientists, led by Alan Stern, do not agree with or accept the reclassification and demotion.

Stern is the Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons probe which carried out history’s first flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Among its numerous discoveries, New Horizons found that Pluto is a very geologically world even today and larger than Eris, and thus reigns as undisputed “King of the Kuiper Belt!”

In the Astronomical Journal paper, Batygin and Brown “show how Planet Nine helps explain a number of mysterious features of the field of icy objects and debris beyond Neptune known as the Kuiper Belt.”

“Although we were initially quite skeptical that this planet could exist, as we continued to investigate its orbit and what it would mean for the outer solar system, we become increasingly convinced that it is out there,” says Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science.

“For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete.”

A predicted consequence of Planet Nine is that a second set of confined objects should also exist. These objects are forced into positions at right angles to Planet Nine and into orbits that are perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. Five known objects (blue) fit this prediction precisely. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) [Diagram was created using WorldWide Telescope.]

A predicted consequence of Planet Nine is that a second set of confined objects should also exist. These objects are forced into positions at right angles to Planet Nine and into orbits that are perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. Five known objects (blue) fit this prediction precisely.
Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) [Diagram was created using WorldWide Telescope.]

In a prior interview, Alan Stern has told me that he believes that a planet at least as large as Mars lurks somewhere far out in the Kuiper Belt.

Meanwhile Batygin and Brown are hunting for ‘Planet Nine’ and they encourage others to search too.

Since they only know the rough orbit of the object, they continue to “refine their simulation” to better pin down its location to more productively aim the telescopes along the highly elliptical path.

“I would love to find it,” says Brown. “But I’d also be perfectly happy if someone else found it. That is why we’re publishing this paper. We hope that other people are going to get inspired and start searching.”

Here’s a comment from NASA’s Director of Planetary Sciences Jim Green, about today’s discovery:

Video caption: A New Planet In Our Solar System? NASA Takes A Look . NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, Jim Green, discusses the Jan. 20 Astronomical Journal science paper that points to the possibility of a new “Planet 9” in our solar system beyond Pluto, examining the scientific process and inviting you to have a front row seat to our exploration of the solar system.

“The idea of a new planet is certainly exciting for all of us,” says Green. “The paper is stimulating a healthy debate that’s part of the scientific process. This isn’t the detection of a planet. It’s too early to say with certainty that there is a so-called Planet X out there. This is an early prediction based on limited observations. It stimulates ideas.”

“Now let’s go explore!”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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32 Responses

  1. btraymd says:

    This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Summerian tablets that were interpreted by Sitchin and others clearly state the existence of this Planet X. Much other knowledge they possessed has been just recently been found to be correct. Although not everything they recorded in the clay tablets 8000 years ago has been confirmed, so much has been documented that it would be foolish to dismiss their claims out of hand. The mind-boggling fact is that we know of no possible way they could have possessed this knowledge. This strongly indicates that there was a very advanced civilization that possessed knowledge of the cosmos and our history here on earth and that this knowledge far surpasses our own. Aliens??? Who knows. But their story of our creation makes more sense than any of the “miraculous” stories held as gospel by today’s organized religions.

    • Pvt.Pantzov says:

      “But their story of our creation makes more sense than any of the “miraculous” stories held as gospel by today’s organized religions…”

      that’s not really saying much.

    • LMAO! I KNEW that if I came to this story there’d be someone bringing that up. And the first comment, indeed… Yup, ties ALL of t h a t up in a tidy little basket. Nice pounce.

  2. laurele says:

    Thank you for one of the few fair and balanced reports on this. Too many journalists simply repeated Brown’s statements as true, complete with the “Pluto killing” nonsense. Those who oppose the IAU planet definition should refuse to call this object “Planet Nine.” The only reason Brown used this name is as a dig against supporters of Pluto’s planet status. This story could have been reported with no reference to Pluto at all; unfortunately, too many outlets simply rewrote Brown’s press release which does not even acknowledge the ongoing debate over

  3. mewo says:

    Turns out that it’s hard to get a planet massive enough to do the job, but faint enough to escape detection at 500-1000AU.

  4. mewo says:

    Turns out that it’s hard to get a planet massive enough to do the job, but faint enough to escape detection at 500-1000AU.

  5. resenmut says:

    Hi,…it looks so, that my conclusions, computations cca 12years ago about possible position of Planet X, and of more distant heavier Nibiru..(after my discussions with Mike Brown, his coworkers) there was discovered Sedna,…could be right. I also wanted to bet (cca 2005) with Mike big sum, that if some heavier objects would be discovered approx. where is Sedna, so they should be on similar very eccentric orbits. Main axes of those distant planetoids points, show that there could be very heavy object maybe not so far cca 10billion km from us. There is also resonancy (like Neptune with TNO) with coef. 1, 2,… where heavy objects till 40MJ could exist too, with orbit period 26000year, if on cca circular orbit,..or with orbital period cca 13000 years, if more eccentric orbit,.. I used not only astronomical officialy recognised by present science, but also ancient Egyptian, Chinese astronomical maps (Senmut astro map from his tomb,..cca 1350B.C., Funneral banner of markisa Tai-168B.C.) and also much more old source,..probably Atlantean or even older,…precise astronomical maps of our Solar system from ancient oriental carpet, when Astronomy was more advanced than our present. Much more in lulu.com/shop/pavel-smutny/ancient-egypt-and-2012/paperback/product-16951885.html
    or partly in my webs senmut.webs.com, senmut.beep.com
    Let me know your opinion,…

    • mewo says:

      My opinion is that it’s crackpot garbage. Neither Nibiru not Atlantis have ever existed.

      • resenmut says:

        When officials lie about existance, cooperations with particular groups of extraterrestrials, when they lie about our past advanced civilisations, so it is not easy to them to admit existance of Planet X-Nibiru, of Nemesis,..what about are old civil. speaking, there are astro maps, texts,… Maybe this can help also to stop official deception agenda.

      • Dark Gnat says:

        The ones making the outlandish claims have the burden to prove it.

        Simply making a statement, then calling any skepticism a cover up is not a valid method. it only displays the lack of credibility and lack of any real effort – and is there derided as fringe/crackpot/conspiracy garbage.

        It’s not the officials who are lying. “Theories” like this are intellectual pollution.

  6. Steven says:

    I look forward to the widening of implications and related information. The infrared survey not long ago excluding objects of various sizes out to various distances for example should be compared in detail to this prediction.

    On the other hand does this become the prospective source of another issue – the speculated re-arrangement of the planets of Neptune and Uranus long suggested?

    What about the implications of an ejected planet into the outer Kuiper/inner Oort cloud? Does predicted planet become the main source of long period comets? Is it possible to tease out a long periodicity of comets subject to this prediction? The Kreutz family?? How does its orientation towards Canis Major face up with the orientation of the predicted planet?

    Does this affect the developing understanding of galactic tides on the Oort could roughly every 30 million years? Acting like Jupiter but in a more rarified environment it might be protecting the inner solar system from new inbound comets from the Oort cloud proper.

  7. Steven says:

    Here’s a link to the infrared survey.

    A key summary: “This recent study, which involved an examination of WISE data covering the entire sky in infrared light, found no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (au), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 au.”

    Now this neatly still allows for a Neptune sized object closer but it would be good to get a concrete answer about how the results of the survey face a 10 Earth mass planet – significantly smaller than Saturn but still big enough to do the work of adjusting all these trans-kuiper belt objects.

    http://phys.org/news/2014-03-wise-survey-thousands-stars-planet.html

  8. Steven says:

    Here’s a close up of the WISE data graph that includes space – to my reading it seems to allow for a Neptune-class planet about from near 4k AU.

    See http://cdn.phys.org/newman/gfx/news/hires/2014/1-wisesurveyfi.jpg

  9. Pedro Gonzalez says:

    Ken: I think you invented the fact that this is a “gas giant.” I’ve read the original paper and searched it for the term, and it doesn’t appear.

    The paper compares the hypothetical planet to Neptune only as to mass.

    The exterior of the planet would be way, way too cold to contain anything but well-frozen solids.

  10. Steven says:

    (from the wikipedia article) “An infrared survey by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer in 2009 does not exclude such an object as their results allow for a Neptune-sized object beyond 700 AU. A similar study in 2014 focused on higher-mass bodies that could be in the outer Solar System, excluding Jupiter-class objects out to 26,000 AU.”

    and

    Aphelion 1200 AU (est.)
    Perihelion 200 AU (est.)
    Semi-major axis 700 AU (est.)

  11. BlackWolfStanding says:

    We might not find any planet beyond the Kuiper Belt’s edge. Why?

    We had several near misses with other stars in our galaxy. The gravitational effect of these stars warped the Kuiper Belt objects off the plane of the ecliptic. Some planet being 20 times the distance of Neptune away from the Sun would have had some devastating gravitational effects from these rouge stars. Would a planet gain enough acceleration to spin away from the Sun? Would it lose enough speed to spin it’s way down into the sun?

    Some papers theorize that Jupiter or maybe Saturn formed close to the Sun and moved further out at a later date due to the effects they left on the inner Planet’s orbits. What if it was this Planet 9 spinning into the sun because almost all of it’s forward speed was removed by one of these passing stars?

    The theory fits for a planet 9. But there is no reason that a planet 9 still exists in our solar system.

  12. Lubomir Stiak says:

    If it exist, I wonder if it could be taken as a classic planet. What does clearing its neigbourhood mean in Kuiper belt? Can you clear a belt? What if it’s just a belt planet or acquared rogue planet? What about ecliptic plane inclination? 🙂

  13. UFOsMOTHER says:

    Planet 9 is still Pluto this theoretical Planet should be called Planet 10 and will be when everyone comes to their senses!

  14. Aqua4U says:

    Alrighty then.. This planet will probably just be a big old Ice ball and nothing special, like Pluto…. Right? Then again, on second thought, it might turn out to be a good candidate for a base to launch a starship from? IF we ever get around to it…

    And just think what this discovery will do for astrology! ~@; P

  15. Greg says:

    This is an elegant study that proves to a high degree of certainty what I and many others have been going out on a limb to postulate for the past few years after 2012 VP 113 was discovered and it’s orbit calculated. Subsequent discoveries have only strengthened the case and undoubtedly there will be more discoveries that add to pile of evidence supporting this conclusion. This study adds two very important things to the discussion. The first is an orbit track to point telescopes at and the second is it’s mass, which puts it in the range if an ice giant like Neptune and Uranus. What is most interesting about this harkens back to the leading theories of solar system formation. These state that for the solar system to arrive in the configuration it is in today, that there must have been a third ice giant that got thrown out of it’s orbit by Jupiter. It was not clear if it got thrown out of the solar system entirely to drift through interstellar space, or if it was thrown to a distant orbit. This object could very well be the same planet.

  16. Steven says:

    Hows does the direction of New Horizon’s correspond to the rough direction of Plane Nine?

  17. Steven says:

    Rather than just being another Pluto I think far more likely it will be like a rogue planet and an opportunity to examine heat retention – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_planet#Retention_of_heat_in_interstellar_space

  18. Steven says:

    Trying to work out the direction of aphelion I gather it is roughly opposite Sedna – and from what I can gather that might be in the vague direction of Fomalhaut – which is to say towards but below Aquarius.

    And to answer my own question about relative to the Kreutz family – about 160° off from that direction (± a wide angle on that.)

    And from what I can tell it’s roughly 10 to 40° away from New Horizon’s trajectory (though since they’ve changed direction it may be more or less in that direction – not sure.) I wonder if that puts New Horizons in the “right” direction enough – though it’s “lifetime” is unclear to me after 100 AU. So it might not have enough power to tell us much.

    On the other hand there is the potential for a gravitational acceleration if probes head out close enough. Need in a haystack though – space is really big.

  19. Pete says:

    Thank you, Blackwolfstanding. If a large outer planet’s existence can be inferred by the orbits of minor planets in the Oort cloud, then why cannot the position of said large outer planet be determined well enough to guide us right to it?

    • mewo says:

      The hypothetical planet has shepherded these TNOs gently over a long time, and many many orbits. This allows us to get a rough idea of the trajectory of the planet, but is not precise enough to let us judge where along that trajectory the planet is.

      As an analogy, imagine that you’ve inferred the location of an olympic running track from arguing that there will be lots of spectators on the edge of the track but none on it. That allows you to very accurately map the location of the race track, but tells you nothing about the current position of the runners.

      The situation changes, of course, if the TNOs are in orbital resonances with the planet. Then the current position of the TNOs do constrain the current position of the planet, at least roughly.

  20. SteveZodiac says:

    The James Webb NIRCam will have enough field to go on a planet hunt but I suspect more evidence needs to be garnered to warrant the observation time

  21. In the phrase “Pluto is a very geologically world even today” the word “active” was omitted after “geologically”.

  22. Steven says:

    I had the thought that once they have a candidate it would be interesting if NH could spot it because the off-angle view might pick up some parallax.

  23. Steven says:

    In terms of instruments taking a look this could be a chance to talk about things. The Subaru scope has a 10hr exposure limit of 27.7 and maybe a good wide field of view (making for some really dense data sets near the Milky Way which the aphelion of PN is probably in.)

    The Hubble can manage a 31 mag limit in a 2 million second exposure but only in tight views like the Ultra Deep Field.

    See the Planet Nine wikipedia article which has an insane rate of editing going on.

    I had the thought about the Kepler craft – it’s field of view does cross the search pattern (see http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/K2/images/CampaignSky.png ) but it resolves 20th magnitude with only poor results in 30 min exposures which is their usual limit. (http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/k2-observing.html ) And PN is expected to be fainter than 20th because they’ve already looked brighter than that and the math at aphelion says it should be fainter.

    But I wonder if the team could support a more special search with longer going forward. One of the fields of view in 2014 was near Taurus which is in the window of possibility….

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