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Scientists Uncover Possible Ninth Planet In Our Solar System

by : Hannah Smith on : 15 Dec 2020 15:36
Scientists Uncover Possible Ninth Planet In Our Solar SystemPixabay

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided the strongest evidence yet that a ninth planet might exist in our Solar System.

No, scientists haven’t just rediscovered Pluto. We’re talking about a completely separate exoplanet, catchily named HD 106906 b. As you might have guessed from the term ‘exoplanet’, HD 106906 b isn’t actually in our Solar System – it’s located 336 light-years away and orbits around its own pair of stars – so while this isn’t the Planet Nine scientists have long wondered about, it does provide some important clues as to what a similar planet in our Solar System might look like.

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Using the Hubble telescope, scientists have determined that the exoplanet has an especially strange orbit, which means it travels past the edge of its star system’s debris field and circles only every 15,000 years, spending most of its time several hundred light years away from its host star.

NASA/ESA

It’s the first time a planet has been confirmed to have such a bizarre orbit, lending weight to the theory that a planet with a similarly strange path could be lurking in the outer reaches of our Solar System.

Meiji Nguyen, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and lead author of a recent paper about the exoplanet, said:

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This system draws a potentially unique comparison with our solar system. It’s very widely separated from its host stars on an eccentric and highly misaligned orbit, just like the prediction for Planet Nine.

This begs the question of how these planets formed and evolved to end up in their current configuration.

HD 106906 b, which is 11 times the mass of Jupiter, was first discovered in 2013, but thanks to the Hubble, which could combine accurate measurement with historical information about the planet, we now know more about the unique map of the exoplanets orbit.

NASA/ESA

Crucially, scientists want to figure out how the exoplanet came to have this wacky orbit in the first place. One leading theory suggests that HD 106906 b formed close to its host stars, but what shot outwards by the two stars’ gravitational effect, before having its orbit stabilised by another passing star, keeping it within its home Solar System and preventing it from becoming a drifting, rogue planet.

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Moving forward, scientists are planning to use a different piece of kit – the James Webb Space Telescope – to confirm their data and determine if this exoplanet is able to capture material on its way outside of the debris disk, or even possibly has accumulated its own debris field.

Clearly, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to HD 106906 b, but this rare exoplanet could well contain clues that will not only help us understand far away star systems, but also uncover possible secrets still hidden within our own.

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Topics: Technology, Now, Solar System, Space, Tech

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Engadget
  1. Engadget

    Strange exoplanet discovery makes a case for the elusive 'Planet Nine'