According to researchers, the elusive planet X could be found by the New Horizons probe in its new mission exploring the Kuiper Belt.
The New Horizons completed a successful flyby of Pluto on July 14, coming within 7,800 of the planet. Recently, a NASA researcher compiled a video showing the journey, from the spacecraft’s viewpoint, by assembling individual images into a dramatic representation of the dwarf planet.
Provided that the space agency extends its mission, the probe is now set to continue its journey and reach a “cold, classical” celestial body named 2014 MU69, situated in the Kuiper Belt region on January 1, 2019.
Scientists have been theorizing that beyond that sky portion there could be the mysterious Planet X, a “massive perturber” that has been causing disruptions in the orbits of several space bodies in the area.
“I think there are definitely things out there bigger than Pluto that are yet to be discovered”, declared astronomer Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C.
The Kuiper Belt consists of approximately 1,500 icy, rocky bodies which are smaller than Pluto. Some of them are large enough to be categorized as dwarf planets, but there may be a much bigger object beyond that region.
In a paper published by Sheppard and Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, they hint at the presence of a “massive outer Solar System perturber”. According to this research detailed in the “Nature” journal in 2014, Planet X may be approximately the size of Neptune, which would make its dimensions larger than Earth’s.
Others believe that 2012 VP113 (nicknamed “Biden”), the celestial body that scientists are speculating on, is actually a dwarf planet, located approximately 3 times as far from the Sun as Pluto is. Its presence could account for the strange pattern followed by large space objects orbiting the region.
Instead of being randomly distributed, they all have the same behavior, sharing an orbital trajectory, which is highly unusual for their size. This suggests that there could be another planet locking them into those patterns, and “shepherding” them. A similar occurrence takes place when asteroids approaching the Earth tend to follow the same orbital angle, due to gravitational forces.
So far, Sheppard’s study remains just an interesting starting point, because its sample size is relatively small (just a dozen of celestial bodies have been analyzed), but further research done on bigger Kuiper Belt objects could confirm the hypothesis.
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