Published: Fri, October 05, 2018
Research | By Francis Brooks

While seeking Planet X, astronomers find a distant solar system object

While seeking Planet X, astronomers find a distant solar system object

Astronomers have found a small object far beyond Pluto that orbits the sun in a lonely, oblong loop, a discovery that supports the notion of a larger, more distant planet - often referred to as Planet X - wandering the edge of our solar system. 2015 TG387 was nicknamed "The Goblin" by the discoverers, as its provisional designation contains TG and the object was first seen near Halloween. At its closest, it gets about two and a half times as far from the sun as Pluto.

"This clustering can only be maintained if the solar system hosts an additional, yet unseen, super-Earth type planet", Batygin said, adding that he's "running code as we speak that evaluates how the inferred orbit and mass of Planet Nine are affected by this new object".

The newly discovered icy world, estimated to be just 300km across, is in an extremely elongated orbit.

Pictured is a predicted orbit of the new dwarf planet, nicknamed "the goblin" (left).

"The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits-a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the solar system's evolution", Sheppard said. Indeed, its highly elongated trajectory strengthens the theory that there is - and is waiting to be discovered - a pro-Earth or a ninth planet of our solar system, also known as Planet X.

Sheppard has embarked on an ongoing survey to find tiny planetoids on the solar system's outer rim.

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"These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X", Sheppard said. He and his colleagues first spotted the object in 2015. Sheppard, who found another similar object just four years ago, spent the next three years confirming the original sighting with his team and announced the find today in the Astronomical Journal. Observations using the Subaru Telescope led to the discovery of the mini-world known as The Goblin.

SCIENTISTS may be closer to discovering the mysterious "Planet X". Astronomers have narrowed down the search area for Planet Nine but have not yet found it.

To put that in perspective, pretend that you could shrink the solar system so that the sun is in NY and Pluto lies in Los Angeles.

"We think there are thousands of these, and majority are too distant to detect", Sheppard said. "This one is 200 miles in diameter, but the real key here is that it's thought to be evidence that there's a much larger object that exists much further out in our solar system", said Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute. The planet is said to be around the same size as Uranus or Neptune, and can take anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit around the Sun.

But, she says "we're a lot closer to having enough objects" to give her more confidence that Planet Nine exists. They're in hot pursuit of them, as well as a potentially bigger-than-Earth planet known as Planet 9, or Planet X, believed by some scientists to be orbiting at a distance of hundreds of AU.

BECKER: An easier solution is the existence of Planet Nine because it naturally creates these objects in the solar system. Sheppard says a large and unknown planet could be "shepherding" these dwarf planets, directing them like a cosmic border collie around the solar system's fringe. But The Goblin doesn't get anywhere near Jupiter or Neptune, so some astronomers think Planet Nine might be out there doing the slinging.

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