There's nothing quite like looking up at the sky on an exceptionally starry night. It's the closest a lot of us will get to exploring space (not counting binge-watching COSMOS on Netflix), and it's pretty awesome. Usually, the coolest thing I'll spot in the sky is a tiny plane passing by — but scientists have something a lot more interesting on their hands right now. Anyone keeping up with the Planet X hunt knows that researchers at CalTech have discovered mathematical evidence in 2015 that leads them to believe that there's a another deep in the solar system, which could have a mass about 10 times bigger than that of Earth. The hunt for Planet X has ongoing, but has led to the discovery of a new object billions of miles beyond Pluto, whose orbit has a lot of implications, according to a new report from the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.
First, a bit about "Planet X," for people who may not be familiar. "This hypothetical Neptune-sized planet orbits our sun in a highly elongated orbit far beyond Pluto," NASA reports. "The announcement does not mean there is a new planet in our solar system. The existence of this distant world is only theoretical at this point."
While "Planet X" is still theoretical, this new body found beyond Pluto has been confirmed in the annoucement by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, which is responsible for locating minor bodies in the solar system. The research is being led by the Carnegie Institution for Science, and People reports that it is the "largest and deepest survey ever conducted for distant solar system objects." This discovery is a step in the right direction for scientists' hunt for Planet X. "These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X," explained Scott Sheppard, a Carnegie Institute astronomer who is helping to lead the research. "The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits — a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the Solar System's evolution," he continued.
The newly discovered object is called 2015 TG387 (or as I have been mentally referring to it, "mysterious space ball"). Researchers ran computer simulations to understand how different hypothetical Planet X orbits would impact the orbit of 2015 TG387. The majority of their simulations showed that not only was 2015 TG387’s orbit stable for the age of the Solar System, but it was actually guided by Planet X’s gravity. “These simulations do not prove that there’s another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there,” Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo reports. If you're the kind of person who has always stood by the opinion that there's way more out there in space than we know about (ever since you saw E.T. as a kid), now you know that you were onto something all along.
2015 TG387, which is currently being described by researchers as an "extreme dwarf planet" that lies roughly two and a half times further away from the Sun than Pluto does — it's super, super far away. “These so-called Inner Oort Cloud objects like 2015 TG387, 2012 VP113, and Sedna are isolated from most of the Solar System’s known mass, which makes them immensely interesting,” Sheppard explained. “They can be used as probes to understand what is happening at the edge of our Solar System."
There's no doubt about it: the discovery of this far away dwarf planet is leading researchers closer and closer to finding out more than ever about what's in the furthest areas of the great beyond.
Keep checking on headlines to stay updated on researchers' findings about the mysterious Planet X — I'm not saying that aliens could be next, but honestly, you never know.