UPenn Scientists Discovered 139 Minor Planets

Published on March 20, 2020

A team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have found 139 minor planets, hovering the sun beyond Neptune. Known as the Trans-Neptunian Objects, the bodies orbit in the Kuiper belt, a region in the Solar System that goes beyond the eight major planets, according to Futurism.

Mysterious Planets.

The newest breakthrough could help astronomers to search for the mysterious Planet Nine, a hypothetical ninth planet in our Solar System that some believe to be the cause behind strange gravitational effects on a collection of Trans-Neptunian Objects past Neptune’s orbit. Co-lead and UPenn professor Gary Bernstein said in a statement:

“There are lots of ideas about giant planets that used to be in the solar system and aren’t there anymore, or planets that are far away and massive but too faint for us to have noticed yet.” 

“Making the catalog is the fun discovery part. Then when you create this resource; you can compare what you did find to what somebody’s theory said you should find.” 

The Astronomic Method.

According to NBCNews, scientists carefully studied data collected by the Dark Energy Survey, from 2013 to 2017. DES evaluates the skies using the 520-megapixel Dark Energy Camera; it is located at the Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Conducted by graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli and professors Gary Bernstein and Masao Sako, the researchers began with 7 billion DES-detected dots. They narrowed them down to 22 million “transients” after ruling out objects such as galaxies that appeared in roughly the same spot on multiple nights. Those 22 million were cut down to 400 TNO candidates; the team was able to track their movements for about at least six nights. 

Out of those 400 objects, 139 are new. The exact distance in regards of them is 4.5 billion kilometres from the Sun, which is 30 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. Amongst those Trans-Neptunian Objects, scientists count the former planet Pluto and dwarf planets Eris, Haumea, and Makemake. 

How Will This Help Find Planet 9?

Forbes states that the new Vera C. Rubin Observatory, also in Chile, could use the team’s method to track even fainter and farther objects than DES. By calculating the orbits of these objects, astronomers could be able to find“Planet 9,” the hypothetical Neptune-sized planet that could exist beyond Pluto. 

Solar Evidence.

According to Newsmax, the possible existence of this ninth planet first came out four years ago by two scientists. They explained that said planet could explain the “unusual, highly elliptical orbits of a packed group of TNOs.” Nevertheless, astronomers said that the prototype of how solar systems work does not explain this unusual collection of orbits. 

Last year scientists offered a theory explaining why they haven’t found Planet 9. They suggest that the coveted astro object was a ‘primordial black hole’ the size of a bowling ball with enough gravitational pull to affect the blocks of ice and rock outside of  the perimeters of space. Some studies even showed the possibility that Planet 9 might have already been found.

Endless Planets Search? 

According to a Fox News article from November, a study suggested a $200 million satellite—NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)—may have already discovered the mysterious Planet 9. Chris Ciaccia wrote in the Fox article that Planet 9 could have a near-infrared magnitude between 19 and 24, which means that TESS may have already observed it. While studies differ in their findings, there is still the possibility of a new major planet out there. Even though there hasn’t been any talk regarding the possible name, it is fair to say that the astrophysicist world isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Argenis Ovalles is an Editorial Intern at Grit Daily. He currently writes at Vocal Media and Theater Pizzazz.

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