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 (the object was nicknamed "The Goblin" because of the TG designation and the October 2015 discovery date) is about 80 astronomical units away from the Sun, almost 2.5 times further than Pluto is from the Sun. "For some 99 percent of its 40,000-year orbit, it would be too faint to see".
The Goblin-formally known as 2015 TG38-sits more that twice as far from the Sun as Pluto does, even at its closest approach. 2015 TG387 is one of the few known objects that never comes close enough to the Solar System's giant planets, like Neptune and Jupiter, to have significant gravitational interactions with them.
In essence, their orbits are arranged in such a way that it seems like there's another large planet tugging them into alignment. 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.
It joins other objects Sheppard and his team have found on the edge of the solar system since 2012. So far, all of the objects Sheppard has spotted appear to dance as predicted. The researchers, including Sheppard, Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujilllo and the University of Hawaii's David Tholen, have also submitted a paper to the Astronomical Journal detailing their findings.
The discovery images of 2015 TG387 taken at the Subaru 8-meter telescope located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii on October 13, 2015. The researchers nicknamed the object "The Goblin", because of the discovery date and the "TG" in the provisional designation.
Trujillo and University of Oklahoma's Nathan Kaib ran computer simulations for how different hypothetical Planet X orbits would affect the orbit of 2015 TG387. This makes such objects hard to find, but modern telescopes have begun to pick them out against the blackness of space.
Sheppard and his colleagues think 2015 TG387 is about 186 miles (300 km) wide and probably spherical, in which case it would qualify as a dwarf planet. At TG387'smost distant spot in its orbit, traveling there would be the equivalent to circling the earth seven times, or traveling three-quarters of the way to the moon. That would bring the number of true planets in our solar system back to nine, replacing Pluto which was demoted in 2006. The discovery of TG387 sent shock waves to the scientific community, as its very elliptical orbit around the Sun points to the possible existence of Planet X. "These simulations do not prove that there's another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there", Trujillo said in a statement.
First, unlike Earth and most of the rest of the objects in our solar system, its orbit isn't even close to round.
Of course, this still isn't conclusive proof that Planet Nine exists.
BECKER: An easier solution is the existence of Planet Nine because it naturally creates these objects in the solar system. "With other large telescopes, it is like looking through a straw and thus they are good for observing things you know are there, but not for finding new things as their field of views are too small for covering large areas of sky", said Sheppard.
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