A Stolen Exoplanet That Will Kill Us All? Here’s What We Do Know About ‘Planet Nine’

Artist’s impression of Planet Nine. Tomruen, nagualdesign; background taken from File:ESO , CC BY-SA

Ever since a study suggested that a “Planet Nine” could be lurking in the outskirts of our solar system, astronomers have been busy trying to pin it down.

As nobody has actually observed the planet yet, this research has been largely computational. The existence of the planet was only suggested after scientists noticed that objects in its vicinity were moving strangely.

Since it was proposed in January, astronomers have modelled Planet Nine’s structure, orbit, estimated threat to Earth and possible origin. But with all this data at hand, are we any closer to actually finding it? Let’s take a look at some recent results and what they really mean.

It May Be An Exoplanet

The latest such study has come up with two different possible scenarios for Planet Nine’s origin. One is that it may have started as a forming outer planet core from our own early solar system which was expelled to the edge of the solar system by some process, perhaps a collision.

Simulation of the sun stealing an exoplanet.

However, another possibility is that our sun may have stolen Planet Nine from a nearby star in the Milky Way 4.5 billion years ago, which would make it our nearest extrasolar planet. As star formation regions are relatively dense with stars – the sun was born in a cluster with perhaps 1,000 other stars – these can indeed interact.

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