Saturn probe could help detect ‘Planet X’
February 25, 2016 · Planet X
The search for a ninth planet is continuing with the help of NASA’s Cassini probe
, a spacecraft that has explored the Saturn system for over a decade. If it exists, Planet X, as scientists call it, likely resides somewhere far beyond the orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto.
The existence of the planet was predicted by Mike Brown and his colleague Konstantin Batygin, professors of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, after observing the unusual orbits of six relatively large bodies in the Kuiper Belt — a loop of icy, rocky bodies that also includes Pluto.
Other scientists, however, suspect the orbits are influenced not by another planet, but by more rocky bodies in the Kuiper Belt that have not yet been detected. If Planet X is real, Brown thinks it will be found within the next five years.
Although Brown and Batygin have yet to name a specific path along which the ninth planet would move through space, they have proposed a possible range in space where it might be found, which is approximately 20 times farther away from the sun than Neptune.
The path of a planet around the sun consists of its distance from it, how oblong its orbit is, and how tilted its orbit is compared to the plane of nearby planets.
“It’s a state-of-the-art calculation and a very clever idea,” said Batygin in an email to Space.com
. “It is wonderful to see that members of the community are presenting their own proposals on how to best optimize the observational search for Planet Nine. This is exactly what Mike [Brown] and I hoped for.”
Beginning this year, Cassini will initiate a total of 22 dives into Saturn’s ring system. The probe will enter the gas giant’s atmosphere in September 2017. Meanwhile, the Juno probe
is expected to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.
Brown and Batygin’s new work is available to read on arxiv.org
and will be published soon in an upcoming issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics