Scientists have discovered a secret planet hiding in our solar system

Scientists have discovered a secret planet hiding in our solar system

There are eight planets in our solar system – plus poor old Pluto, which was demoted in 2006 – but what if there were more?

Turns out this may be the case. Astronomers estimate that there is a 7% chance that Earth has another neighbor hiding in the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of ice and rock that is tens of thousands of times farther from the Sun.

“It is entirely plausible that our solar system could capture such an Oort cloud planet,” said Nathan Cape, co-author of the work and an astronomer at the Planetary Science Institute.

Hidden worlds like these are “a class of planets that should definitely exist but have received relatively little attention” until now, he said.

If there’s a planet hiding in the Oort Cloud, it’s almost certainly an ice giant.

Large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn are usually born as twins. However, they have enormous forces of attraction of their own, and sometimes destabilize each other.

This could have led to the planet being completely removed from the solar system, or exiled to its outer edges, where the Oort Cloud is located.

“The remaining planets have eccentric orbits, resembling scars left by their violent past,” said lead author Sean Raymond, a researcher at Purdue University’s Astrophysics Laboratory.

This means that the Oort cloud planet could have a considerably long orbit, unlike the near-perfect circle that Earth follows around the sun.

The problem is that when objects are very far away, it is very difficult to spot them. “It would be very difficult to detect,” Raymond added.

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“If there’s a Neptune-sized planet in our Oort cloud, there’s a good chance we haven’t found it yet,” said Malena Rice, an astronomer at MIT who was not involved in the work.

“Surprisingly, it can sometimes be easier to detect planets hundreds of light-years away than those in our own backyard.”

It’s time to crack the telescope.

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