New Evidence for Our Solar System’s Ghost: Planet Nine

Artist's impression of Planet Nine as an ice giant eclipsing the central Milky Way, with a star-like Sun in the distance. Neptune's orbit is shown as a small ellipse around the Sun. The sky view and appearance are based on the conjectures of its co-proposer, Mike Brown.

Does another undetected planet languish in our Solar System’s distant reaches? Does it follow a distant orbit around the Sun in the murky realm of comets and other icy objects? For some researchers, the answer is “almost certainly.”

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The Giant Planets Migrated Between 60-100 Million Years After the Solar System Formed

The migration of the giant planets had a hand in shaping our Solar System, including Earth. New research shows the migration happened much earlier than thought. Image Credit: NASA

Untangling what happened in our Solar System tens or hundreds of millions of years ago is challenging. Millions of objects of wildly different masses interacted for billions of years, seeking natural stability. But its history—including the migration of the giant planets—explains what we see today in our Solar System and maybe in other, distant solar systems.

New research shows that giant planet migration began shortly after the Solar System formed.

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Where Are All These Rogue Planets Coming From?

An artist's illustration of a rogue planet, dark and mysterious. Image Credit: NASA

There’s a population of planets that drifts through space untethered to any stars. They’re called rogue planets or free-floating planets (FFPs.) Some FFPs form as loners, never having enjoyed the company of a star. But most are ejected from solar systems somehow, and there are different ways that can happen.

One researcher set out to try to understand the FFP population and how they came to be.

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One in Twelve Stars Ate a Planet

When a star eats a planet, it changes the star's metallicity. New research based on co-natal stars shows that one in twelve stars have eaten at least one planet. Image Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Garlick/M. Zamani

That stars can eat planets is axiomatic. If a small enough planet gets too close to a large enough star, the planet loses. Its fate is sealed.

New research examines how many stars eat planets. Their conclusion? One in twelve stars has consumed at least one planet.

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Improving a 1960s Plan to Explore the Giant Planets

John Bodylski holds a balsa wood model of his proposed aircraft that could be an atmospheric probe. Directly in front of him is a fully assembled version of the aircraft and a large section of a second prototype at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Credit: NASA/Steve Freeman

In the 1960s, NASA engineers developed a series of small lifting-body aircraft that could be dropped into the atmosphere of a giant planet, measuring the environment as they glided down. Although it would be a one-way trip to destruction, the form factor would allow a probe to glide around in different atmospheric layers, gathering data and transmitting it back to a parent satellite. An updated version of the 1960s design is being tested at NASA now, and a drop-test flight from a helicopter is scheduled for this month.

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Radio Telescope Confirms Free-Floating Binary Planets in the Orion Nebula

Free-floating JuMBOs (Jupiter-Mass Binary Objects) don't conform to our present stellar and planetary formation theories. Credit: Gemini Observatory/Jon Lomberg

Planets orbit stars. That’s axiomatic. Or at least it was until astronomers started finding rogue planets, also called free-floating planets (FFPs). Some of these planets were torn from their stars’ gravitational grip and now drift through the cosmos, untethered to any star. Others formed in isolation.

Now, astronomers have discovered that some FFPs can orbit each other in binary relationships as if swapping their star for another rogue planet.

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Diamond Rain on Ice Giants Could Influence Their Magnetic Fields

Scientists created a model to explain how diamond rain falls inside Uranus and Neptune and messes with their magnetic fields. Courtesy SLAC.
Scientists created a model to explain how diamond rain falls inside Uranus and Neptune and messes with their magnetic fields. Courtesy SLAC.

Imagine Jupiter with a diamond core the size of Earth. That’s what science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke described in his novel (and movie) 2010: Odyssey 2. Now, imagine the same thing, but at Uranus and Neptune. In addition to a possible diamond core, diamond rain fills the interior. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory think they know how these diamonds form on ice-giant planets.

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Planetary Surfaces: Why study them? Can they help us find life elsewhere?

Universe Today recently explored the importance of studying impact craters and what they can teach us about finding life beyond Earth. Impact craters are considered one of the many surface processes—others include volcanism, weathering, erosion, and plate tectonics—that shape surfaces on numerous planetary bodies, with all of them simultaneously occurring on Earth. Here, we will explore how and why planetary scientists study planetary surfaces, the challenges faced when studying other planetary surfaces, what planetary surfaces can teach us about finding life, and how upcoming students can pursue studying planetary surfaces, as well. So, why is it so important to study planetary surfaces throughout the solar system?

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Three Iron Rings Around A Star Show Where Planets are Forming

Observations with the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) found various silicate compounds and potentially iron, substances we also find in large amounts in the solar system's rocky planets. Credit: Jenry

Researchers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) have found three iron rings around a young star about 500 light-years away. The rings indicate that planets are forming. What can these rings tell us about how Earth and the other planets in our Solar System formed?

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It Doesn’t Take Much to Get Tilted Planets

Earth's axial tilt (or obliquity) and its relation to the rotation axis and plane of orbit. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Chinese and Indian astronomers were the first to measure Earth’s axial tilt accurately, and they did it about 3,000 years ago. Their measurements were remarkably accurate: in 1120 BC, Chinese astronomers pegged the Earth’s axial tilt at 24 degrees. Now we know that all of the planets in the Solar System, with the exception of Mercury, have some tilt.

While astronomers have puzzled over why our Solar System’s planets are tilted, it turns out it’s rather normal.

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