By Braden Clark
On Twitter, people in the Salt Lake City area on Wednesday found the discovery of #Planet9 was more interesting than that of #Sundance2016, #NationalCheeseLoversDay and #PenguinAwarenessDay.
“For most people I would say that Planet Nine is more interesting than important,” said James Coburn, a Utah State University physics professor. “Finding a planet that orbits the Sun once every 15,000 years won't have any impact on our day to day lives.”
Mike Brown, an astronomer who is known for his work with Pluto a decade ago, said in a Q&A that the scientists from Cal Tech know the orbit of the planet, but don’t know exactly where the planet is on its orbit.
“We haven't seen it yet,” Brown said. “This paper we published is like handing everyone a treasure map.”
The paper, entitled Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System, was published in the Astronomical Journal, and co-written with another astronomer, Konstantin Batygin. Brown said in the journal that Planet Nine is supposedly 5,000 times the mass of Pluto, and possibly two to four times the diameter of the Earth.
“They found it by other dwarf planets being disturbed by something, but they don’t actually know what is disturbing them,” said Amy Oliver, a NASA solar system ambassador for Clark Planetarium. “However, we can tell by the way other dwarf planets react that there is something really large out there.”
According to Oliver, finding the new planet is a huge feat for this generation because Planet Nine will be the first planetary body found in the solar system since Neptune in 1846.
“Hey, we don’t know everything,” Oliver said. “This is incredibly exciting for scientists and space engineers, and it’s really exciting for our generation to find something grand like this ninth planet.”
Coburn said the astronomers who made the announcement think if enough people look they should be able to find the planet within five years.
“It is very far away and very dim, but if enough astronomers look for it, and if it is really there, we should find it in the next few years,” Coburn said.