Florida Tech Astrophysicist: Signs of Ninth Planet, Search Is On

By  //  January 24, 2016

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RAGOZZINE SEES SIMILARITIES TO NEPTUNE’S DISCOVERY

Florida Tech Astrophysicist Darin Ragozzine, pictured at the University Ortega Telescope. (Florida Tech image)

Florida Tech Astrophysicist Darin Ragozzine, pictured at the University Ortega Telescope. (Florida Tech image)

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – California Institute of Technology astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin have found strong evidence that a new planet may be lurking at the edge of our solar system, according to their research published this week.

In their work reported in the current issue of the Astronomical Journal, Brown and Batygin cite gravitational perturbations affecting smaller objects that they believe are indicative of a nearby unidentified planet. Many scientists feel the findings are strong enough to begin the quest to pinpoint the object predicted to be 10 times bigger than the Earth.

Florida Institute of Technology’s Darin Ragozzine, an assistant professor of physics and space sciences who earned his Ph.D. at Cal Tech under Mike Brown, said things are proceeding similarly to as they did when Neptune was discovered more than 150 years ago using only mathematics.

“The proposed Planet Nine solves a handful of otherwise unrelated dynamical puzzles, and there is a plausible story for its formation early in the solar system,” Ragozzine said.

He said finding this planet may be more difficult than proving Neptune’s existence because of Planet Nine’s odd orbit, which is elliptical and could have a period as long as 20,000 years around the sun. “That means that a huge search of the sky will be necessary,” though he adds such a search is well within the abilities of many current instruments.

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“It will take some effort, but I suspect Planet Nine will be found in the next few years; I give it a 95 percent chance.”

Ragozzine’s areas of expertise include planetary science, exoplanets, Kuiper belt objects, orbital dynamics, transiting planet light curves and astrobiology.

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