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  • Writer's pictureSiheli Siyathra

Could We Have A Ninth Planet Apart From Pluto?

One day, scientists noticed that something bizarre and inexplicable was causing chaos out there in space. A mysterious, celestial body was influencing the orbits of six smaller objects in the Kuiper Belt. This was happening far, far away from our home planet. This ‘Something’ got the name of ‘Planet Nine’ and also a much more offensive nickname: ‘Fatty.’ Well, no wonder: the planet was 10 times heavier than Earth! But, soon after astronomers began to search the hypothetical planet, things took an unexpected turn.

But, let’s see what we know about Planet Nine first. So, as I’ve already mentioned, the thing is massive. More than 10 times heavier than Earth. That’s why the planet might have great gravitational force. That means Planet Nine is likely to be an ice giant. You see, rocky planets like Earth and Mars cannot grow larger than a certain size because… well, they’re pieces of rock. Gas giants are the biggest planets known to us and can expand quite easily. But seeing that Fatty is bigger than rocky planets and smaller than gas giants, there’s only one conclusion- ice giants.

If Fatty does exist, people will most likely have to rewrite Astronomy books. We used to believe that Neptune is the furthest from the sun. But, according to estimations, Planet Nine is 20 times further away from the sun. In other words, it’s 90 billion kilometres away from the centre of the Solar System. NASA’s New Horizon Probe will take more than 50 years to reach it. For comparison, the probe got to Pluto in 9 years! One year on Planet Nine is 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years. Hard to imagine? Just think of this: the last time Fatty was in the same place, mammoths were still roaming our planet.

Of course, until scientists see Planet Nine from their own eyes, they cannot say for sure that it exists. But the evidence they have is quite solid, and chances are the planet does exist. Otherwise, why would 13 space objects outside the orbit of Neptune be behaving so strangely: clustering and tilting in a weird way? It could only happen if a massive, far-away planet made them swing in one direction. And, as there’s no other massive space body in the area- hello Planet Nine!

Obviously, it’s bound to be very difficult to spot Fatty with such an enormous distance between Earth and the planet. But scientists don’t give up hope; they’re looking for the planet using infrared equipment (you know, those things we use to send beams to detect radiation). If Planet Nine exists, it’s supposed to give out infrared radiation. But so far, scientists have only detected weird gravitational effects in the outskirts of the Solar System. And then again, what if Planet Nine isn’t a planet at all?

The idea, which came up in 2019, suggests that the object causing hullabaloo is a Black Hole. Wait, WHAT? Will it swallow us and the whole Solar System?! Astronomers have divided Black Holes into 3 main groups: supermassive black holes, intermediate-mass black holes, and stellar-mass black holes. All these three types are dangerous. But there might be another type of black hole: Primordial black holes.

The problem with Primordial black holes is that scientists don’t have proof of their existence - they just suppose black holes of this type are out there. These black holes are very old and quite tiny (by black hole standards). Astronomers believe that they appeared some milliseconds after the Big Bang. At that time, stars and galaxies weren’t born yet. By now, the smallest Primordial black holes are likely to have evaporated away, but the bigger ones might still be around. When these black holes were formed, space wasn’t the same. It differed from place to place- hotter, cooler denser. Some of the denser regions collapsed upon themselves, forming Primordial black holes.

Okay, back to Planet Nine - or is it Primordial Black Hole Nine? Black holes are notorious for their gravitational pull. But even if the idea about the Primordial black holes is true, Earth isn’t in danger. These tiny black holes are too weak to do any damage to our planetary system. But at the same time, they can mess with objects careless enough to get close.

But what made scientists come up with the idea of Primordial Black Holes? For one thing, it was an inexplicable brightening of stars, as if some massive but transparent object was passing in front of them. These stars also began to look curved, as if you were looking at them through a magnifying glass.

When scientists created a computer model of a Primordial black hole 5 to 10 times as heavy as Earth, and with a distant orbit from the sun, they got interesting results. The pattern of this model resembled the events happening in the Kuiper Belt a bit too well to be a coincidence. And also, a Primordial black hole will explain why Planet Nine can’t be seen and doesn’t produce any radiation.

But the main reason scientists are excited about Primordial black holes is the mystery of the ‘dark matter’(the unidentified parts of space). They still cannot find out what 30% of the Universe is made up of. Primordial black holes might be the very ‘dark matter’ scientists are looking for!

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