Scientists say a large planet could be lurking at the edge of the solar system

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Jan 22, 2016, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

There is apparently a growing collection of evidence that suggests a massive, previously unknown planetary body exists at the outer reaches of our solar system.

According to a paper published in Astronomical Journal by California Institute of Technology scientists Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown, the motion of dwarf planets and other objects in the same general region -- the remote Kuiper belt -- suggests that their orbits are being affected by the gravitational pull of a much larger body. 

They estimate that this yet-to-be-observed planet is anywhere from five to 10 times larger than Earth, which would make it the fifth largest planet in the solar system. Called Planet Nine for now, the object is said to be 20 times farther away than our most distant planet, Neptune, and would orbit the sun only once every 20,000 years.

Given its location in the Kuiper belt, Planet Nine -- if it does exist -- is also quite distant from Pluto, which used to be considered the ninth planet in the solar system before being demoted to dwarf planet in 2006 due to its size. 

A number of powerful telescopes are on the lookout for Planet Nine now, and the astronomers hope to spot it sometime within the next five years. 

Brown, who says he began searching for Planet Nine for his daughter -- who was disappointed when Pluto was downsized -- claims he didn't expect to find it. He told Nature, "If I read this paper out of the blue, my first reaction would be that it was crazy. But if you look at the evidence and statistics, it’s very hard to come away with any other conclusion."

There have been other searches for previously undiscovered planets at the edge of the solar system, all of which have come up empty. But if they find this one, will you be pleased to see the solar system restored to nine planets again? And what should they name Planet Nine?

(via Talking Points Memo)

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