The hunt for Planet X turns up a new solar system object

The hunt for Planet X turns up a new solar system object

Kenneth Drake
October 5, 2018

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.

No doubt the observation and naming of The Goblin-which is about 186 miles across, takes 40,000 years to orbit the sun-will set off new debates around planetary categorization. For some 99 percent of their orbits, they are too distant and thus too faint for us to observe them.

2015 TG387, which is now being described by researchers as an "extreme dwarf planet" that lies roughly two and a half times further away from the Sun than Pluto does - it's super, super far away.

At its most distant, the Goblin is 2,300 times farther from the sun than Earth.

The Goblin's orbit is very skewed, and so is Sedna's and Biden's.

Scientists have discovered yet another marker on the trail toward the putative Planet Nine.

"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", he added. "We believe there are thousands of dwarf planets in the distant solar system". "If the trends are true, then we don't know of another explanation for why they would be grouped in an orbit like this", Sheppard said.

It follows research by mathematicians at Caltech who found the existence of a massive ninth planet was the only explanation for the sculpting of the orbits of these other, smaller objects.

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The findings were submitted for publication to the Astronomical Journal.

These objects were first noticed in October, 2015, from a Japanese telescope atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. The researchers nicknamed the object "The Goblin", because of the discovery date and the "TG" in the provisional designation.

Based on simulations using the basic parameters they have for Planet X, the researchers say the Goblin acts like it is "shepherded" by the planet but never nears the proposed massive planet.

The weird orbits of those worlds are consistent with the hypothesis that a distant planet larger than Earth, known as Planet Nine or Planet X, is exerting its gravitational influence. Researchers have spotted another distant dwarf planet in the outer solar system, and like the others it gives scientists more confidence that Planet Nine really does exist.

The Goblin is "about 300 kilometres in diameter, on the small end of a dwarf planet", said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington who discovered the object along with colleagues at Northern Arizona University, University of Hawaii and the University of Oklahoma. "The announcement does not mean there is a new planet in our 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.

Scientific speculation asserts that a planet estimated to be roughly 10-times the size of Earth exists somewhere beyond Neptune, and it's this planet that's pushing all these much smaller planets and rock objects into orbit around our sun.

"We think there are thousands of these, and a lot of them are too distant to detect", Sheppard said. But The Goblin doesn't get anywhere near Jupiter or Neptune, so some astronomers think Planet Nine might be out there doing the slinging.