By Christian Hwang
In 1781, planet Uranus was drifting off its course. Time and again the best astronomers tried to solve the problem, and time and again they failed. For 65 years, astronomers were clueless, and Uranus moved across the sky as a reminder of humanity’s limited knowledge of the universe. Uranus became a world shrouded by a screen of unresolved questions. People didn’t even know what it looked like.
It wasn’t until Urbain Le Verrier, a 19th century astronomer, published a set of calculations and proved that if a planet existed in a specific part of the solar system, the orbit of Uranus could be predicted. With Le Verrier’s help, astronomers discovered the planet, Neptune, in just a single night.
Today, astronomers are challenged with a similar puzzle. As more and more Kuiper Belt objects are being discovered, astronomers are noticing that the objects are starting to cluster together into nearly identical orbits. This is an abnormal occurrence, to say the least. The chances of these orbits all aligning is one in 500.
Or is there another undiscovered planet, billions of miles away from the sun, hiding like Neptune was?
Although public opinion is quite mixed, a majority of the astronomy community admits that there is a viable chance that a ninth planet exists in the solar system. Using calculations similar to those used by Le Verrier, Caltech professor Konstantin Batygin found proof that another planet could have enough gravity to cluster the Kuiper Belt objects. A hypothetical spot for Planet Nine has been marked, and the astronomy community is in search of it.
So if we know exactly where the ninth planet would be, why haven’t we found it yet? If the planet does indeed exist, it would be extremely far away from the sun. This means that it would be a smaller target for telescopes, and it would not reflect enough sunlight to be easily detectable.
My opinion is that there is, for certain, another planet in our solar system that we haven’t found. There are too many unlikely occurrences happening in our solar system for there not to be a ninth planet. For example, many asteroids experience orbits that are perpendicular to the planets, which also could be explained by Planet Nine. There is plenty of space for a ninth planet, and the Kuiper Belt objects are far enough from the sun to be affected by another planet’s orbit.
Masao Sako, a leading astronomer on the search for Planet Nine, has observed and analyzed about 50 percent of its possible locations. Other astronomers, also on the look for the planet, are about 20 percent done. With all the astronomers looking for this elusive and puzzling planet, we can hope that it will be found in the near future. One day, the astronomical mystery lasting over a century will finally be solved. Until then, the search goes on.