The latest research claims to have detected resonant patterns in some of ‘these most distant Kuiper Belt objects’, perhaps suggesting the presence of a major ‘shepherding’ planetary body, as Phys.org reports.
As the search for a hypothetical, unseen planet far, far beyond Neptune’s orbit continues, research by a team of the University of Arizona provides additional support for the possible existence of such a world and narrows the range of its parameters and location.
Led by Renu Malhotra, a Regents’ Professor of Planetary Sciences in the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab, the team found that the four Kuiper Belt Objects with the longest known orbital periods revolve around the Sun in patterns most readily explained by the presence of a hypothetical “Planet Nine” approximately ten times the mass of Earth.
Malhotra is presenting the results at the joint 48th meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society and 11th European Planetary Science Congress in Pasadena, California. According to the researchers’ calculations, such a hypothetical planet would complete one orbit around the Sun roughly every 17,000 years and, at its farthest point from our central star, it would swing out more than 660 astronomical units, with one AU being the average distance between the Earth and the Sun.
“We analyzed the data of these most distant Kuiper Belt objects,” Malhotra said, “and noticed something peculiar, suggesting they were in some kind of resonances with an unseen planet.”
In their paper, “Corralling a Distant Planet with Extreme Resonant Kuiper Belt Objects,” Malhotra and her co-authors, Kathryn Volk and Xianyu Wang, point out peculiarities of the orbits of the extreme KBOs that went unnoticed until now: they found that the orbital period ratios of these objects are close to ratios of small whole numbers.
An example of this would be one KBO traveling around the Sun once while another takes twice as long, or three times as long, or four times as long etc., but not, say, 2.7 times as long.
According to the authors, such ratios could arise most naturally if the extreme KBOs’ orbital periods are in small whole number ratios with a massive planet, which would help to stabilize the highly elliptical orbits of eKBOs.
The findings bolster previous work by other scientists that showed that six of those bodies travel on highly eccentric orbits whose long axes all point in the same direction. This clustering of orbital parameters of the most distant KBOs suggested a large, planetary size body shepherding their orbits.