A planet spotted 336 light-years from Earth could help scientists learn whether there is a large “Planet Nine” or “Planet X” lurking in the outskirts of our solar system.
Why it matters: Scientists have been chasing the hypothetical planet Nine for years. The new characterization of this alien planet by the Hubble Space Telescope shows that worlds like the theoretical planet can also exist in other solar systems.
Details: The exoplanet is “very far from its host stars in an eccentric and highly aligned orbit, just like the prediction for planet Nine,” Meiji Nguyen, an author of the new study on the planet in the US Astronomical magazine said in a statement.
- “This begs the question of how these planets formed and evolved to end up in their current configuration.”
- The binary galaxy in which the planet was found is relatively young, at 15 million years old, suggesting that these types of worlds could form early in the history of their solar system.
- Scientists suggest the planet may have landed in its strange orbit because it was hurled far from its stars at some point in the past.
The big picture: Researchers think Planet Nine could exist in our solar system because of the strange orbits of a handful of objects along Neptune in what is known as the Kuiper Belt.
- Proponents of the theory suggest that the gravity of a large planet in an odd orbit can affect how these other bodies move.
- The exoplanet studied by Hubble could serve as a good model for what the early history of planet Nine in our solar system might look like.
- “It’s like we have a time machine for our own planetary system going back 4.6 billion years to see what might have happened when our young solar system was dynamically active and everything was pushed around and rearranged,” Paul Kalas, another author of the study, said in the statement.