By Loren Grush
A new discovery is strengthening the idea that a large, mysterious planet — known as Planet 9 or Planet X — may be lurking unseen at the Solar System’s edge. Astronomers say they have found a tiny object orbiting far out from the Sun that fits with the Planet X theory. In fact, the object may have even been pushed onto the path it takes now by this hidden planet’s gravity.
The tiny rock — eloquently named TG387 and nicknamed “The Goblin” — was spotted by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of Science using a giant Japanese observatory in Hawaii called Subaru. The Carnegie team first spotted the object in 2015 and then followed it on its journey around the Sun for the last four years. Those observations revealed an incredibly distant target. TG387 takes a whopping 40,000 years to complete just one orbit around the Sun. And it’s on a very elliptical path far from the inner Solar System; the closest it ever gets to the Sun is 65 Astronomical Units (AU), or 65 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. For reference, Pluto only gets as far as 49 AUs from the Sun.
This orbit is particularly enticing since it puts TG387 in a select group of distant Solar System objects that all point to the possible existence of Planet X. Right now, there are 14 far-out space rocks that all share similar orbit patterns, suggesting that this planet is out there. Their paths are all super elongated, and they all cluster together in the same area when they approach the Sun. Plus, their orbits are all tilted alike, and they point in the same general direction, as if something big has pushed them into similar places. These objects are the strongest lines of evidence astronomers have for Planet X, and finding a new one that matches this pattern reinforces that idea that this planet is more than just a theory.
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