Evidence keeps piling up that a ninth planet is orbiting on the edge of our solar system, and now new calculations suggest it might be easier to track down than we thought.
New calculations show the planet is likely somewhere in the sky near the constellation Orion.
Astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin announced the possible existence of Planet Nine back in January. They didn't have direct proof though. Their calculations were based on the orbital path of six icy bodies way out on the edge of the solar system called Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs. It appeared the possible ninth planet was sitting somewhere out beyond those KBOs, herding them together onto the same orbital plane.
But proving Planet Nine really exists won't be easy. The problem is that if it's real, the planet is somewhere between 500 and 600 times as far from the sun as the distance that Earth is from the sun. That means its orbital path is extremely wide, which makes it really difficult to pinpoint its position.
Another team of astronomers narrowed the search field in February, but now Brown and Batygin are getting even closer to figuring out where the planet is lurking. Their new calculations show the planet is likely at its farthest point from the sun in its orbit, and it's somewhere in the sky near the constellation Orion.
Other astronomers have proposed that the planet's likely icy environment could mean that its atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium. Those gases are really good at reflecting light, so the planet might be bright enough for telescopes to spot it.
What's more, a third team of astronomers have found even more evidence that the planet really exists. They discovered that the six KBOs are in synchronized orbits. That kind of relationship between orbits usually means they have a common gravitational influence — in this case, their gravitational influence might come from Planet Nine.
Astronomers will need uninterrupted observing time on a powerful telescope like the Subaru telescope in Hawaii to find out if Planet Nine really exists, Batygin told Science News.