Are we close to finding the elusive Planet Nine? Crowdsourced research may have found four candidates.
Since 2016, the suggestion that there might be a ‘Planet Nine’ within our solar system has rapidly transformed from left-of-field thinking to a scientific possibility.
Research published earlier this year discussed the potential for its existence on the furthest edge of our solar system, possibly the result of a rogue planet thrown into our neighbourhood.
Scientists have even begun theorising what such a giant planet would look like, leading to possible answers as to why we have not been able to find such a planet near us – until now.
According to researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), a crowdsourced effort from 60,000 stargazers has managed to catalogue more than 4m objects in our solar system in the hunt for what could be Planet Nine.
Of that number, ANU believes that just four offer the best hope of us finding the planet, thanks to the use of its SkyMapper telescope, which was crucial in ruling out areas in the southern sky where Planet Nine could be situated.
The search continues
“We’ve detected minor planets Chiron and Comacina, which demonstrates the approach we’re taking could find Planet Nine if it’s there,” said lead researcher Dr Brad Tucker.
He added: “We’ve managed to rule out a planet about the size of Neptune being in about 90pc of the southern sky out to a depth of about 350 times the distance the Earth is from the sun.”
Tucker also encouraged people to continue their search for Planet Nine through the project website, Zooniverse.org. One stargazer in particular, Toby Roberts, has single-handedly catalogued 12,000 objects in the solar system.
Speaking last year, Caltech’s Mike Brown – who stripped Pluto of its planetary status – said he was still holding out hope of discovering the planet.
“I would love to find it,” he said. “But I’d also be perfectly happy if someone else found it. We hope that other people are going to get inspired and start searching.”