Planet 9 Nibiru Searching -139 New minor planets beyond Neptune

Planet 9 Nibiru Searching -139 New minor planets beyond Neptune

Planet 9 Nibiru Searching

Published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, the study also describes a new approach for finding similar types of objects and could aid future searches for the hypothetical Planet Nine and other undiscovered planets. The work was led by graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli and professors Gary Bernstein and Masao Sako.

While the coronavirus outbreak is dominating the global news cycle, a team of astronomers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered 139 minor planets — too small to be a proper a planet, but not a comet or space rock either — orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune, as detailed in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal

The list of Pluto’s neighbours just got considerably longer, potentially boosting scientists’ odds of finding the putative Planet Nine. A project to map dark energy in the southern sky has brilliantly exceeded its parameters. It turns out, the Dark Energy Survey has also been adept at identifying really small objects all the way out past Neptune.

Planet 9 (Nibiru) Searching
A look inside the Dark Energy Survey Camera shows the 74 blue-tinged sensors that detect light. The camera will survey distant, faint galaxies to learn more about dark energy.

The Dark Energy Survey itself is officially over. It ran between August 2013 and January 2019, collecting five and a half years’ worth of infrared and near-infrared data on the southern sky. It was studying a range of objects and phenomena such as supernovae and galaxy clusters to try to calculate the acceleration of expansion of the Universe, thought to be influenced by dark energy.

But the survey’s high degree of depth, breadth and precision turned out to be useful for something else: spotting distant minor planets, an object category that includes pretty much anything that isn’t a planet or a comet – from asteroids to dwarf planets. Because DES was designed to study galaxies and supernovas, the researchers had to develop a new way to track movement.

Planet 9 Nibiru Searching

Dedicated TNO surveys take measurements as frequently as every hour or two, which allows researchers to more easily track their movements. “Dedicated TNO surveys have a way of seeing the object move, and it’s easy to track them down,” says Bernardinelli. “One of the key things we did in this paper figured out a way to recover those movements.”

Using the first four years of DES data, Bernardinelli started with a dataset of 7 billion “dots,” all of the possible objects detected by the software that was above the image’s background levels. He then removed any objects that were present on multiple nights—things like stars, galaxies, and supernova—to build a “transient” list of 22 million objects before commencing a massive game of “connect the dots,” looking for nearby pairs or triplets of detected objects to help determine where the object would appear on subsequent nights.

Trans-Neptunian object
Trans-Neptunian object | Artistic comparison of Pluto, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, Gonggong, Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, Salacia, 2002 MS4, and Earth along with the Moon.

The solar system has four main regions. Small, rocky planets like the Earth orbit in the inner solar system, out to a distance of 4.2 A.U. (”astronomical unit,” the distance from Earth to the sun). Out to 30, A.U. lie the four giant planets. The distance of the farthest of these, Neptune, is the beginning of the Kuiper Belt. Beyond the Kuiper Belt’s edge, at a distance of 48 A.U., the Oort Cloud begins. The Oort Cloud extends for perhaps 2 light-years, half the distance to the nearest star.

But new discoveries suggest that this map is incomplete. Dwarf planets like Sedna and the newfound 2012 VP113 occupy a realm beyond the Kuiper belt scientists are calling the “inner Oort Cloud.” Sedna and 2012 VP113 have very eccentric, or oval-shaped, orbits. They also have very distant perihelions (closest approach to the sun). This sets them apart from all the other known objects in the solar system.

Sedna’s highly eccentric orbit carries it from 76 A.U. at its closest to the sun, out to 937 A.U. at its most distant. The object 2012 VP113 has a similar orbit. One Sedna orbit takes 11,400 Earth years to complete

The movements of seven of the new objects are extreme TNOs, with an average orbital distance (or semi-major axis) greater than 150 astronomical units. (For context, Pluto orbits at an average distance of nearly 40 astronomical units.) If these extreme TNOs can be confirmed, they will be among the most distant Solar System objects we have seen.

Bernardinelli developed a way to stack multiple images to create a sharper view, which helped confirm whether a detected object was a real TNO. They also verified that their method was able to spot known TNOs in the areas of the sky being studied and that they were able to spot fake objects that were injected into the analysis. “The most difficult part was trying to make sure that we were finding what we were supposed to find,” says Bernardinelli.

Planet 9 (Nibiru) Searching -139 New minor planets beyond Neptune
The orbits of six ‘detached’ trans-Neptunian objects roughly align in space. Perhaps their similar orbits are the result of Planet Nine’s influence? nagualdesign/Wikimedia

After many months of method-development and analysis, the researchers found 316 TNOs, including 245 discoveries made by DES and 139 new objects that were not previously published. With only 3,000 objects currently known, this DES catalogue represents 10% of all known TNOs. Pluto, the best-known TNO, is 40 times farther away from the sun than Earth is, and the TNOs found using the DES data range from 30 to 90 times Earth’s distance from the sun. Some of these objects are on extremely long-distance orbits that will carry them far beyond Pluto.

Planet 9 Nibiru Searching

According to the researchers involved, they believe the new way of using TNOs to find planets could help aid their mission to hunt down the elusive Planet Nine.

Planet Nine was first theorised by experts at Caltech in 2016 when they spotted that a group of icy objects on the edges of the solar system have tilted orbits. They suggested the orbits of these lumps of ice – so-called Trans-Neptune objects (TNOs) – were warped by the gravitational pull of a ninth planet in the solar system.

The researchers will be putting their methods through their paces again. The team has tweaked the detection parameters, and will be applying them to the full 5.5-year Dark Energy Survey observation data; the revised techniques might yield hundreds of more TNOs.

With luck, they might even come across evidence for Planet Nine, a large body thought to be orbiting at a distance of around 200 AU. The way some of the TNOs loops around the Sun suggests something large has gravitationally affected their orbit – but so far the hypothesised planet has evaded detection.

“There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the Solar System and aren’t there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet,” Bernstein said.

“Making the catalogue is the fun discovery part. Then when you create this resource; you can compare what you did find to what somebody’s theory said you should find.”

Distribution of trans-Neptunian objects
Distribution of trans-Neptunian objects

Astronomers believe that the orbits of a number of bodies in the distant reaches of the solar system have been disrupted by the pull of an as yet unidentified planet. First proposed by a group at CalTech in the US, this alien world was theorised to explain the distorted paths seen in distant icy bodies. In order to fit in with the data they have, this alien world – popularly called Planet Nine – would need to be roughly four times the size of Earth and ten times the mass.

Researchers say a body of this size and mass would explain the clustered paths of a number of icy minor planets beyond Neptune. The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. Its huge orbit would mean it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make a single pass around the sun. The theoretical Planet Nine is based on the gravitational pull it exerts on these bodies, with astronomers confident it will be found in the coming years.

Unfortunately, the new objects don’t yet lead to anything conclusive about Planet Nine. The researchers released early results analyzing whether the orbits of the seven newfound TNOs support the clustering pattern that points to Planet Nine, but so far, they’ve turned up nothing.

Planet 9 (Nibiru) Searching
Planet nine Extreme Trans-neptune objects with orbits and current positions.

“If this were the first dataset that came out, then no one would have come up with the Planet Nine hypothesis because there appears to be no clustering [in the orbits of the new eTNOs],” says Sako. However, he adds that this doesn’t disprove the existence of Planet Nine either. Their method could uncover other eTNOs that do support the proposed Planet Nine — or even spot the object itself.

Ann-Marie Madigan, an astronomer at the University of Colorado Boulder, says, “TNOs are difficult to detect, and so each one we find tells us that there is a much more massive underlying population [of objects] out there,” she says. The more TNOs we discover, the more we can tell if there’s evidence for Planet Nine. Or, alternatively, if Madigan’s own theory of collective gravity of very distant objects eliminates the apparent need for a Planet Nine.

Regardless of whether Planet Nine exists or not, understanding the orbits and properties of TNOs will provide insights into the history of the giant planets, or perhaps past giants that were kicked to the outskirts of the solar system during its early years.

Planet 9 Nibiru Searching Video

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