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VIDEO Astronomers Say a Neptune-Sized Planet Lurks Beyond Pluto – Planet Nine

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VIDEO Astronomers Say a Neptune-Sized Planet Lurks Beyond Pluto - Planet Nine

The solar system appears to have a new ninth planet. Today, two scientists announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune—but as yet unseen—orbits the sun every 15,000 years.

During the solar system’s infancy 4.5 billion years ago, they say, the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun. Slowed down by gas, the planet settled into a distant elliptical orbit, where it still lurks today.

The claim is the strongest yet in the centuries-long search for a “Planet X” beyond Neptune. The quest has been plagued by far-fetched claims and even outright quackery.

But the new evidence comes from a pair of respected planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, who prepared for the inevitable skepticism with detailed analyses of the orbits of other distant objects and months of computer simulations. “If you say, ‘We have evidence for Planet X,’ almost any astronomer will say, ‘This again? These guys are clearly crazy.’ I would, too,” Brown says. “Why is this different? This is different because this time we’re right.”

Outside scientists say their calculations stack up and express a mixture of caution and excitement about the result. “I could not imagine a bigger deal if—and of course that’s a boldface ‘if’—if it turns out to be right,” says Gregory Laughlin, a planetary scientist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz. “What’s thrilling about it is [the planet] is detectable.”

Batygin and Brown inferred its presence from the peculiar clustering of six previously known objects that orbit beyond Neptune. They say there’s only a 0.007% chance, or about one in 15,000, that the clustering could be a coincidence. Instead, they say, a planet with the mass of 10 Earths has shepherded the six objects into their strange elliptical orbits, tilted out of the plane of the solar system.

The orbit of the inferred planet is similarly tilted, as well as stretched to distances that will explode previous conceptions of the solar system. Its closest approach to the sun is seven times farther than Neptune, or 200 astronomical units (AUs). (An AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, about 150 million kilometers.) And Planet X could roam as far as 600 to 1200 AU, well beyond the Kuiper belt, the region of small icy worlds that begins at Neptune’s edge about 30 AU.

If Planet X is out there, Brown and Batygin say, astronomers ought to find more objects in telltale orbits, shaped by the pull of the hidden giant. But Brown knows that no one will really believe in the discovery until Planet X itself appears within a telescope viewfinder. “Until there’s a direct detection, it’s a hypothesis—even a potentially very good hypothesis,” he says. The team has time on the one large telescope in Hawaii that is suited for the search, and they hope other astronomers will join in the hunt.

Batygin and Brown published the result today in The Astronomical Journal. Alessandro Morbidelli, a planetary dynamicist at the Nice Observatory in France, performed the peer review for the paper. In a statement, he says Batygin and Brown made a “very solid argument” and that he is “quite convinced by the existence of a distant planet.”

Championing a new ninth planet is an ironic role for Brown; he is better known as a planet slayer. His 2005 discovery of Eris, a remote icy world nearly the same size as Pluto, revealed that what was seen as the outermost planet was just one of many worlds in the Kuiper belt. Astronomers promptly reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet—a saga Brown recounted in his book How I Killed Pluto.

Now, he has joined the centuries-old search for new planets. His method—inferring the existence of Planet X from its ghostly gravitational effects—has a respectable track record. In 1846, for example, the French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier predicted the existence of a giant planet from irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. Astronomers at the Berlin Observatory found the new planet, Neptune, where it was supposed to be, sparking a media sensation.

Remaining hiccups in Uranus’s orbit led scientists to think that there might yet be one more planet, and in 1906 Percival Lowell, a wealthy tycoon, began the search for what he called “Planet X” at his new observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1930, Pluto turned up—but it was far too small to tug meaningfully on Uranus. More than half a century later, new calculations based on measurements by the Voyager spacecraft revealed that the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were just fine on their own: No Planet X was needed.

Yet the allure of Planet X persisted. In the 1980s, for example, researchers proposed that an unseen brown dwarf star could cause periodic extinctions on Earth by triggering fusillades of comets. In the 1990s, scientists invoked a Jupiter-sized planet at the solar system’s edge to explain the origin of certain oddball comets. Just last month, researchers claimed to have detected the faint microwave glow of an outsized rocky planet some 300 AU away, using an array of telescope dishes in Chile called the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). (Brown was one of many skeptics, noting that ALMA’s narrow field of view made the chances of finding such an object vanishingly slim.)

Brown got his first inkling of his current quarry in 2003, when he led a team that found Sedna, an object a bit smaller than both Eris and Pluto. Sedna’s odd, far-flung orbit made it the most distant known object in the solar system at the time. Its perihelion, or closest point to the sun, lay at 76 AU, beyond the Kuiper belt and far outside the influence of Neptune’s gravity. The implication was clear: Something massive, well beyond Neptune, must have been pulled Sedna into its distant orbit.

Orbits_1280_PlanetX2

That something didn’t have to be a planet. Sedna’s gravitational nudge could have come from a passing star, or from one of the many other stellar nurseries that surrounded the nascent sun at the time of the solar system’s formation.

Since then, a handful of other icy objects have turned up in similar orbits. By combining Sedna with five other weirdos, Brown says he has ruled out stars as the unseen influence: Only a planet could explain such strange orbits. Of his three major discoveries—Eris, Sedna, and now, potentially, Planet X—Brown says the last is the most sensational. “Killing Pluto was fun. Finding Sedna was scientifically interesting,” he says. “But this one, this is head and shoulders above everything else.”

Brown and Batygin were nearly beaten to the punch. For years, Sedna was a lone clue to a perturbation from beyond Neptune. Then, in 2014, Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo (a former graduate student of Brown’s) published a paper describing the discovery of VP113, another object that never comes close to the sun. Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, were well aware of the implications. They began to examine the orbits of the two objects along with 10 other oddballs. They noticed that, at perihelion, all came very near the plane of solar system in which Earth orbits, called the ecliptic. In a paper, Sheppard and Trujillo pointed out the peculiar clumping and raised the possibility that a distant large planet had herded the objects near the ecliptic. But they didn’t press the result any further.

Later that year, at Caltech, Batygin and Brown began discussing the results. Plotting the orbits of the distant objects, Batygin says, they realized that the pattern that Sheppard and Trujillo had noticed “was only half of the story.” Not only were the objects near the ecliptic at perihelia, but their perihelia were physically clustered in space (see diagram, above).

For the next year, the duo secretly discussed the pattern and what it meant. It was an easy relationship, and their skills complemented each other. Batygin, a 29-year-old whiz kid computer modeler, went to college at UC Santa Cruz for the beach and the chance to play in a rock band. But he made his mark there by modeling the fate of the solar system over billions of years, showing that, in rare cases, it was unstable: Mercury may plunge into the sun or collide with Venus. “It was an amazing accomplishment for an undergraduate,” says Laughlin, who worked with him at the time.

Brown, 50, is the observational astronomer, with a flair for dramatic discoveries and the confidence to match. He wears shorts and sandals to work, puts his feet up on his desk, and has a breeziness that masks intensity and ambition. He has a program all set to sift for Planet X in data from a major telescope the moment they become publicly available later this year.

Their offices are a few doors down from each other. “My couch is nicer, so we tend to talk more in my office,” Batygin says. “We tend to look more at data in Mike’s.” They even became exercise buddies, and discussed their ideas while waiting to get in the water at a Los Angeles, California, triathlon in the spring of 2015.

First, they winnowed the dozen objects studied by Sheppard and Trujillo to the six most distant—discovered by six different surveys on six different telescopes. That made it less likely that the clumping might be due to an observation bias such as pointing a telescope at a particular part of the sky.

Batygin began seeding his solar system models with Planet X’s of various sizes and orbits, to see which version best explained the objects’ paths. Some of the computer runs took months. A favored size for Planet X emerged—between five and 15 Earth masses—as well as a preferred orbit: antialigned in space from the six small objects, so that its perihelion is in the same direction as the six objects’ aphelion, or farthest point from the sun. The orbits of the six cross that of Planet X, but not when the big bully is nearby and could disrupt them. The final epiphany came 2 months ago, when Batygin’s simulations showed that Planet X should also sculpt the orbits of objects that swoop into the solar system from above and below, nearly orthogonal to the ecliptic. “It sparked this memory,” Brown says. “I had seen these objects before.” It turns out that, since 2002, five of these highly inclined Kuiper belt objects have been discovered, and their origins are largely unexplained. “Not only are they there, but they are in exactly the places we predicted,” Brown says. “That is when I realized that this is not just an interesting and good idea—this is actually real.”

Sheppard, who with Trujillo had also suspected an unseen planet, says Batygin and Brown “took our result to the next level. …They got deep into the dynamics, something that Chad and I aren’t really good with. That’s why I think this is exciting.”

Others, like planetary scientist Dave Jewitt, who discovered the Kuiper belt, are more cautious. The 0.007% chance that the clustering of the six objects is coincidental gives the planet claim a statistical significance of 3.8 sigma—beyond the 3-sigma threshold typically required to be taken seriously, but short of the 5 sigma that is sometimes used in fields like particle physics. That worries Jewitt, who has seen plenty of 3-sigma results disappear before. By reducing the dozen objects examined by Sheppard and Trujillo to six for their analysis, Batygin and Brown weakened their claim, he says. “I worry that the finding of a single new object that is not in the group would destroy the whole edifice,” says Jewitt, who is at UC Los Angeles. “It’s a game of sticks with only six sticks.”

Timeline_Planet X_Final

At first blush, another potential problem comes from NASA’s Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a satellite that completed an all-sky survey looking for the heat of brown dwarfs—or giant planets. It ruled out the existence of a Saturn-or-larger planet as far out as 10,000 AU, according to a 2013 study by Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. But Luhman notes that if Planet X is Neptune-sized or smaller, as Batygin and Brown say, WISE would have missed it. He says there is a slim chance of detection in another WISE data set at longer wavelengths—sensitive to cooler radiation—which was collected for 20% of the sky. Luhman is now analyzing those data.

Even if Batygin and Brown can convince other astronomers that Planet X exists, they face another challenge: explaining how it ended up so far from the sun. At such distances, the protoplanetary disk of dust and gas was likely to have been too thin to fuel planet growth. And even if Planet X did get a foothold as a planetesimal, it would have moved too slowly in its vast, lazy orbit to hoover up enough material to become a giant.

Instead, Batygin and Brown propose that Planet X formed much closer to the sun, alongside Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Computer models have shown that the early solar system was a tumultuous billiards table, with dozens or even hundreds of planetary building blocks the size of Earth bouncing around. Another embryonic giant planet could easily have formed there, only to be booted outward by a gravitational kick from another gas giant.

It’s harder to explain why Planet X didn’t either loop back around to where it started or leave the solar system entirely. But Batygin says that residual gas in the protoplanetary disk might have exerted enough drag to slow the planet just enough for it to settle into a distant orbit and remain in the solar system. That could have happened if the ejection took place when the solar system was between 3 million and 10 million years old, he says, before all the gas in the disk was lost into space.

Hal Levison, a planetary dynamicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, agrees that something has to be creating the orbital alignment Batygin and Brown have detected. But he says the origin story they have developed for Planet X and their special pleading for a gas-slowed ejection add up to “a low-probability event.” Other researchers are more positive. The proposed scenario is plausible, Laughlin says. “Usually things like this are wrong, but I’m really excited about this one,” he says. “It’s better than a coin flip.”

All this means that Planet X will remain in limbo until it is actually found.

Astronomers have some good ideas about where to look, but spotting the new planet won’t be easy. Because objects in highly elliptical orbits move fastest when they are close to the sun, Planet X spends very little time at 200 AU. And if it were there right now, Brown says, it would be so bright that astronomers probably would have already spotted it.

Instead, Planet X is likely to spend most of its time near aphelion, slowly trotting along at distances between 600 and 1200 AU. Most telescopes capable of seeing a dim object at such distances, such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii, have extremely tiny fields of view. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack by peering through a drinking straw.

One telescope can help: Subaru, an 8-meter telescope in Hawaii that is owned by Japan. It has enough light-gathering area to detect such a faint object, coupled with a huge field of view—75 times larger than that of a Keck telescope. That allows astronomers to scan large swaths of the sky each night. Batygin and Brown are using Subaru to look for Planet X—and they are coordinating their efforts with their erstwhile competitors, Sheppard and Trujillo, who have also joined the hunt with Subaru. Brown says it will take about 5 years for the two teams to search most of the area where Planet X could be lurking.

The 8-meter Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii has a large field of view—enabling it to search efficiently for Planet X.

The 8-meter Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii has a large field of view—enabling it to search efficiently for Planet X.

If the search pans out, what should the new member of the sun’s family be called? Brown says it’s too early to worry about that and scrupulously avoids offering up suggestions. For now, he and Batygin are calling it Planet Nine (and, for the past year, informally, Planet Phattie—1990s slang for “cool”). Brown notes that neither Uranus nor Neptune—the two planets discovered in modern times—ended up being named by their discoverers, and he thinks that that’s probably a good thing. It’s bigger than any one person, he says: “It’s kind of like finding a new continent on Earth.”

He is sure, however, that Planet X—unlike Pluto—deserves to be called a planet. Something the size of Neptune in the solar system? Don’t even ask. “No one would argue this one, not even me.”

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

In the operation, dubbed “Operation Child Protector,” undercover officers posed as 13- and 14-year-old children on social media and online dating apps between July 27 and Aug. 1.

The undercovers made contact with each of the suspects before proposing they meet at a location in Polk County, where they were busted.

In total, the arrests led to 49 felony and two misdemeanor charges. Those arrested were aged 26 to 47. All were from Central Florida except for one 33-year-old man from California.

“What you see on this board … are deviants. Incredible deviants,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference on Tuesday, motioning to photos of the alleged pervs. “They travel from as far away as Clewiston, Florida. One even came from Los Angeles.”

“Much to their chagrin, instead of meeting with young children, they were met by law enforcement officers who were online undercover posing as children.”

Kenneth Javier Aquino, 26, a lifeguard at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World, was arrested while still wearing his Disney polo shirt and swimsuit, according to the sheriff’s office.

Aquino engaged in an online conversation on social media with an officer, posing as a 13-year-old girl, authorities said. He then asked the “girl” to send photos, and sent her an explicit video of himself, police said.

Aquino told officers he is a Navy veteran and has a pregnant girlfriend.

Jonathan McGrew, a 34-year-old custodian at Disney World, was nabbed by an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

disney-world

McGrew allegedly told the “girl” that he wanted her to come over and have sex with him and his girlfriend, 29-year-old Savannah Lawrence, who also works as a custodian at tourist mecca.

McGrew sent her explicit videos of him and Lawrence performing sexual acts on each other, authorities said.

A rep for Disney World didn’t immediately return a message.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

He began experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and neurological issues, and died in May.

Blood and saliva samples were tested and researchers in April found evidence of the Monkey B virus, also known as the herpes B virus.

Researchers said a male doctor and female nurse who were in close contact with the victim tested negative for the virus.

The Monkey B virus is prevalent among macaque monkeys but infection among humans is extremely rare. Since the virus was identified in 1932, just 50 cases have been reported, with the majority of those in North America. Untreated B virus infections in humans are serious, however, with a fatality rate of about 80 percent.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and progress to more serious complications such as swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

Laboratory workers and veterinarians in close contact with the animals are most at risk as people typically get infected with the virus if they are bitten or scratched by an infected macaque, or have contact with the monkey’s eyes, nose or mouth.

But the virus is unlikely to mutate in a way that poses a problem to the general population. Just one case of human-to-human transmission of the virus has ever been documented.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, a dispute over coronavirus-safety precautions is leading to split-screen remembrances Friday, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner. The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day.

Trump and Biden are both headed — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Trump is speaking at the morning ceremony, the White House said. Biden plans to pay respects there in the afternoon after attending the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is also due at ground zero — and then at the alternate ceremony a few blocks away.

In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, 9/11 families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“I know that the heart of America beats on 9/11 and, of course, thinks about that tragic day. I don’t think that people forget,” says Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John and is now on the board of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.

Friday will mark Trump’s second time observing the 9/11 anniversary at the Flight 93 memorial, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.

The ground zero ceremony in New York has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to speak, though they can attend. Biden did so as vice president in 2010, and Trump as a candidate in 2016.

Though the candidates will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their focus on Shanksville is hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a must-win state for both. Trump won it by less than a percentage point in 2016.

Around the country, some communities have canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others are going ahead, sometimes with modifications.

The New York memorial is changing one of its ceremony’s central traditions: having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.

Thousands of family members are still invited. But they’ll hear a recording of the names from speakers spread around the vast plaza, a plan that memorial leaders felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.

But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact. A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.

The two organizations also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center and evoke its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus-safety concerns for the installation crew. After the Tunnel to Towers Foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chairman, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.

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