Saturday, October 23, 2021

There could be a planet similar to Mars hidden in the outer solar system

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All the planetary uncertainty lies in the outer reaches of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune. This is where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, which we thought was a planet for decades but has since been demoted to a dwarf planet. It was still a notable discovery as the first known representative of the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy rocks that includes other big planetoids like Makemake and Eris.  To make sense of the mishmash of objects out there, scientists often turn to simulations that can search for signs of undiscovered planets. And there could be a lot to find out there. “It seems unlikely that nature created four giant planet cores, but then nothing else larger than dwarf planets in the outer solar system,” the study says. 

The team found that models capable of closely approximating the current state of our solar system start with at least one extra planet, something vaguely Earth or Mars-like. This world was bounced around in the outer solar system by the intense gravity fields of Neptune and Saturn until it ended up in a far-out orbit where we can’t see it. It’s also possible the planet (or planets) were ejected from the solar system.  Now Read:

The existence of this extra planet doesn’t preclude the existence of Planet Nine and vice versa. We won’t know which (if either) of them exist until someone can find them out there. The upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory might be able to see these objects when it begins surveying the sky in 2023. The ESA’s Gaia star mapping satellite might also see evidence of extra planets, but only if it distorts the light from distant stars as Gaia happens to be watching.

We are only beginning to understand how solar systems like ours form, but it’s become apparent that planets don’t stay in the same orbit forever — they might migrate in or out depending on conditions and interactions with other objects. The simulations underpinning this study show that the four large gas giants may have rearranged as they gained mass. Jupiter moved inward, and the others moved outward. In about half the simulations, all the extra rocky planets were kicked out into interstellar space, but in the other half, one of them remained in the Kuiper Belt region.  There may be a planet like Mars lurking in the Kuiper Belt.

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