There's A Mysterious Object Out Past Neptune

by Eliza Castile

There goes your horoscope reading for the week. Scientists just discovered a mysterious object beyond Neptune that doesn't appear to obey the traditional rules of orbit. As you can imagine, the scientific community is interested in the question of what Niku is — the only problem is that they're not quite sure of the answer yet. In fact, it's so unique that its name, Niku, means "rebellious" in Chinese.

Niku was detected by Pan-STARRS, a space imaging facility developed by the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy. According to Popular Mechanics, the object, which is less than 125 miles across, is traveling the opposite way of most other orbits in our solar system, on a plane that's tilted 110 degrees past everything else, and it's still traveling upward. If you're familiar with astronomy, you know this is peculiar behavior — the solar system may be vast, but objects within it tend to follow the same rules of orbit. Thanks to angular momentum, most bodies travel in the same direction on the same flat plane around the sun, albeit at varying speeds.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, of course; Pluto orbits on a plane approximately 17 degrees above the rest of the solar system, and some comets (including Halley's Comet) travel in the opposite direction from the typical orbit. So Niku's oddness isn't entirely unexpected, but researchers can't figure out what's causing it.

If Niku is traveling upward, there has to be a cause, and a number of theories have been put forth to explain the object's erratic behavior. However, each possible explanation — whether it was shoved or pulled off course by Planet Nine or an unseen dwarf planet or star — has been deemed "problematic," at least in terms of our current understanding of the universe. "We don’t know the answer," Harvard-Smithsonian Center astrophysicist Matthew Holman told New Scientist.

To make things even weirder, there's evidence that an entire cluster of similar objects is orbiting the same way. You know, in case you needed a reminder of the fallibility of human understanding. Enjoy the rest of your day as a dust mote floating through the sunshine of an infinite universe!

Image: Giphy