Is there a ninth planet in the Solar system indeed?

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Could Our Solar System Still Have Nine Planets?

Many of us still have a vivid memory of August 24, 2006, the controversial day when Pluto was stripped of its official ‘planet’ status. This abrupt reclassification, which left our solar system with only eight known planets, sparked debates and protests among enthusiasts of all ages.

Reclassifying Pluto: A Backstory

Older and wiser, some of us who previously opposed the reclassification now accept it; after all, scientific classification is inherently subject to change as our knowledge advances. However, the demotion of Pluto was not wisely communicated to the public, causing confusion and disappointment among many who idolized the heavenly bodies.

But this shouldn’t be seen as a downgrade. Instead, it should be celebrated as the discovery of new, exciting members of our Solar System, of which Pluto was the first to be identified.

With advancements in technological resources now available to astronomers, catching up on these scientific breakthroughs has become more accessible, allowing everyone to understand even better the cosmos we live in.

Birth of the Dwarf Planets

Pluto’s fate was almost certainly sealed with the discovery of Eris in 2005. Eris, like Pluto, orbits in the outskirts of our Solar System. While it has a smaller radius than Pluto, it possesses more mass. The astronomy community anticipated that the discovery of such objects would only become more common, and they were right. Today, five known dwarf planets exist within our Solar System, adding to its diversity.

The International Astronomical Union established the criteria for what classifies a celestial body as a ‘planet’ or a ‘dwarf planet’. Pluto was not much being singled out in 2006 but failed to meet all three criteria for a fully-fledged planet.

The Quest of Finding the Ninth Planet

Yet, that doesn’t mean our Solar System is destined to have just eight planets indefinitely. With the continuous discovery of new dwarf planets and their peculiar motions around the Sun, the prospect of another full-sized planet existing in our cosmic neighborhood remains very much alive.

Simulations in supercomputers have allowed astronomers to model how gravitational interactions would work out in our complex Solar System. Notable figures from California Institute of Technology, Konstantin Batygin, and Mike Brown, have even used these mathematical models to conclude that there might be a ninth planet lurking somewhere in our Solar System.

The Challenges Ahead

Discovering a new planet in our Solar System has its challenges. A theoretical new planet would be far away and very dim, placing it at the limit of what Earth’s largest telescopes currently can detect. Additionally, knowing precisely where to observe in the vastness of space is a huge challenge.

Nonetheless, astronomical researchers continue their search. In 2021, a team using the Atacama Cosmology Telescope provided ten candidates for follow-up, hinting that our knowledge of our cosmic neighborhood might soon expand even further.

A Look Beyond Our Solar System

While our technologies are advancing towards revealing galaxies from the universe’s earliest years, there’s the endless mystery concerning exoplanets – the planets outside our Solar System. We cannot yet directly observe them due to the vast distances involved and the dimness of light they emit. But, astronomers are tirelessly exploring new ways to search for planets in foreign star systems, providing a glimpse of other possible worlds and contributing to the efforts to find alien life.

The Year to Look Forward to — 2024

The field of planetary studies continues to evolve with promising prospects for 2024. Whether it’s finding water vapor in an exoplanet atmosphere or discovering the elusive ninth planet subtly orbiting our Sun, we should indeed expect exciting breakthroughs and surprises from the cosmic frontier. It seems that the mystery surrounding the ninth planet of our Solar System, left void by Pluto’s reclassification, might soon be solved, making our cosmic neighborhood even more intriguing than before.

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John Kerry

John Kerry, a distinguished author in the realm of science, explores the intricate intersections of environmental policy and scientific advancements. With an insightful pen, he navigates complex issues, offering readers a profound understanding of the crucial role science plays in shaping sustainable futures. Dive into Kerry's work on ReaderWall to embark on a journey through the nexus of science and policy.