Planet 9 is what, exactly?
On today’s show, we talk about how Pluto is not really classified as a planet, and is soon to be forgotten thanks to Planet X (which may even lay beyond the Kuiper belt).
Pluto had been known as number 9 in our Solar System since the 1930s and was discovered by American Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. It’s what we learned in school, saw videos on, and looked at space star maps as a child. All of that had changed in July 2006 when Pluto was downgraded and reassigned the title of “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union.
Not familiar with Pluto? No worries! Let me bring you up to speed:
- Pluto, named for the Greek God of the underworld, sits 3.7 billion miles or 5.9 billion kilometres away from the sun (an orbit take about 248 years to complete)
- One day of Pluto is like 6.3 days on earth
- The gravity of Pluto is about 1/12 of that on earth
- Has a thin atmosphere made mostly of nitrogen, methane and some carbon monoxide
- Due to the rotation mostly on its side, Pluto is very dark and even at the peak of sunlight is more like twilight
- Composed mainly of icy rock
- Surface temperatures can reach as low as -230 Celsius or -390 Fahrenheit
- Has 5 known moons which orbit Pluto; Hydra, Nix, Cereberus, Styx and the latest Cheron
Let’s Get Orbital
So why was Pluto downgraded? Starting with discoveries in the early 1990’s in early 1990’s, planets Quaoarr and Sedna. Then with the discovery of a possible 10th planet name Eris in 2006 (which was found to be much bigger than Pluto), had sparked much conversation among the astronomical community over what defines a planet.
There had always been questions surrounding Pluto’s place in our Solar System, mainly because of its size and orbit of travel. The orbit which eventually travels around the sun is elliptical in nature, and does not follow the same pattern of travel like the rest of the 8 planets. In addition, part of the orbit swings into the Kuiper belt.
The Kuiper belt which is similar to the asteroid belt between Mars/Jupiter, but is 20x wider and 200x more massive is believed to contain more millions of pieces of icy rock material, and over 70,000 objects that are about as large as Pluto if not more.
To be a planet, the object in question has to orbit the sun, have enough gravity to pull itself into a spherical shape, and lastly have cleared pretty much everything in its path out of its orbital track. The ladder point is where Pluto falls short since it intersects orbit of Neptune. Since Pluto is only 0.07x the mass of everything else in its orbit, it has very little magnetic effect with clearing asteroids as well.
It essentially came down to there being no scientific justification to continue calling it the 9th planet, and so Pluto had been downgraded to dwarf planet status, including those other planets which exist in the Kuiper belt. In addition with the launch of New Horizon exploration satellite in 2006, we had learned a lot more about Pluto and Kuiper belt that confirms that the downgrade was appropriate.
When Astronomers wondered what planet might be after Uranus, they named the prospect planet “X”, also known as Neptune, and later became Pluto. The name Planet X is still is used today, and more so now that Pluto was downgraded.
Where does that leave us now? Astronomers have strong evidence of a Planet 9-Planet X, indirectly that is. They observed 6 small Solar System objects in the Kuiper belt which all come into a unique orbit clustering, and the thought is that this Planet X is influencing them with its own huge elliptical orbit which circles our sun.
Further to that, there is a growing movement who believe that “X” is also the notorious Planet Nibiru as mentioned by ancient Sumerians. Since we’re so far away, there hasn’t been any visual evidence of it other than theories surrounding its existence. In addition, some have surmised that should this mass intersect with other orbiting planets, it may cause disturbances, which will can cause a ripple effect or even a possible crash course with Earth.
Eris, Nibiru, or X? What do you call this new object? Do you believe theories of a collision is eminent, or do you think that this just another bizarre theory? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Thanks for exploring the world around us – literally!