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So, you think Planet 9 exists with 99.8% probability?
Something like that. Yeah maybe 99.. I'll push it higher. 99.9% probability.
This is wishful thinking.
It is. I mean if you're that sure, find it.
In the farthest reaches of our solar system,
way past Neptune and Pluto,
a ninth planet may be lurking.
It's predicted to have a mass five times that of Earth,
and to orbit once every 10,000 years
on a highly elliptical, inclined orbit
So why do some scientists suspect that such a strange object exists?
That's what I've come to Caltech to find out
Where do you like to do your work?
You know I usually do it wherever
Wherever I have a couple minutes of free time, I just do it
So this is where a lot of it is done.
My name is Konstantin Batygin
I am a professor of planetary science at Caltech
and I do all kinds of astrophysics-y, planetary studies
including stuff about planet 9
These are variable transformations
I'll tell you where the planet 9 boundary lies it's like that
So everything to the left of that is all planet 9
So I'm here to find out about hidden planets
and how to find hidden planets with math
okay
So how do we do that I mean do you want to start at the beginning of this sort of endeavor
or do you want to jump into planet 9? Where do you want to start?
Well, let's actually let's start at the beginning
because the beginning, it has a long and beautiful history to it
And its origins dates back to 1781, I believe
When Uranus was first discovered by Herschel
and when Herschel discovered Uranus he immediately realized
that the star that was slowly moving across the sky,
had actually been imaged many many times before
and it was a matter of going back to old observations and kind of retracing the orbit that Uranus was following on on the sky
and astronomers and mathematicians at the time immediately noticed that there was a problem with orbit of this newly discovered planet
It was deviating from where was supposed to be
but a French mathematician by the name of Urbain Le Verrier
eventually did this beautiful and very complicated set of calculations
that said, "Okay, if there is a planet is there, Right?
in that part of the sky, then we can explain the anomalous motion of Uranus."
And when, once there was a mathematical prediction of where to look,
astronomers were then able to discover Neptune with basically pinpoint accuracy
how quickly did they find neptune?
so this is a remarkable story. They found neptune in one night,
because they knew exactly where to look
There could be a ninth planet. There's a lot of space for a ninth planet in the outer solar system
but there's no good evidence for a ninth planet at the present time
and a particularly scary thing about the ninth planet is that a lot of people want to believe that there's a ninth planet
and we all know there's this huge psychological bias
To the effect that if you want to believe something is true, you will find evidence, real or not, that it's true
Everyone and their brother in the last 170 years, have predicted planets beyond Neptune.
but all of these theories have failed to date
I think that we, meaning myself and my collaborator/partner-in-crime Mike Brown, are right
our understanding of the solar system has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years
We've discovered that there exists this one additional belt of icy debris called the Kuiper belt
these are kind of big icy asteroids that are maybe the size of LA
floating around beyond Neptune
Who's responsible for finding the Kuiper belt?
I found the Kuiper belt with my student Jane Luu.
We were looking for anything actually beyond the orbit of Saturn
so the puzzle, in 1985 the puzzle was
why is it that the inner part of the solar system is full of asteroids and comets and kind of things planets all this stuff
but then when you go beyond Saturn, there's Uranus, there's Neptune, and there's Pluto and then that's it
Why would the outer solar system be so empty?
It's a very simple question of the kind that I can understand
and the answer was well let's have a look!
you know maybe it's not really empty
maybe it is in which case that would be interesting, but maybe it's not
So we started a survey to find stuff beyond Saturn
and we did the survey for a long time five years or something six years
and found actually nothing for that whole time
including nothing just beyond Saturn where we expected to find stuff
until finally in 1992 we got this thing way out
and we could tell immediately it's way out
45 or 50 au from the slow motion across the sky
we found this thing out there, what we call now the first identified Kuiper belt object
it's actually the second, because Pluto was misidentified back in 1930 for all sorts of reasons
connected with sociology and propaganda and things like that
People wanted to find a planet, and so no matter what Pluto must be a planet
so that process is continued. We have more than 2,000 of these objects now
so in 25 years 2,000 of these things have been found
we think the population is vast
there's a billion things bigger than a kilometer across, maybe more. Maybe a couple billion
it's some of the more distant objects that appear to some people to show this orbital alignment
and they have in particular very large perihelion distance so they never come close to the Sun
they never come close to even Neptune
If you look at the most distant objects in this belt of debris called the Kuiper belt,
all of their orbits kind of point into the same direction
Is it possible that there are some going in the other direction and we just haven't found them?
They're there.
Yeah of course. That's a great question
Generically when you search for objects in the night sky
there are always what are called observational biases
So you are always limited to finding objects only where you look
so this is a key question that you have to ask, right,
Is it that we only found objects that are all pointing that way, right, their orbits pointing that way because we only look there?
The answer is that there is a chance
That this is a this is all a false alarm, okay?
and that chance is one in 500
There are bodies that occasionally will swing out into other directions
it's more that overall if you look at it, there is an overall tendency
so here what we see is a pretty typical kind of simulation of the type that we do
we start the solar system in an initial kind of totally random state
where all the objects are pointing everywhere
for scale these pink circles here are Uranus and Neptune
and this long ellipse, this long pink ellipse is planet nine
these blue guys, these blue orbits are long period Kuiper belt objects
the ones that in the real solar system we see the clustering among
and these gold or greenish ellipses are the more short period, more proximate members of the Kuiper belt which are not clustered at all
so it takes a long time,
but about two billion years into the evolution of the solar system
you begin to see the fact that objects that are collinear with planet nine
have all been scattered away, removed from the solar system dynamically
and the only kind of remaining members of the distant solar system the objects that point the opposite way
Again it's a remarkable gravitational signature
gravitational one-way sign, if you will, that something is confining these orbits,
keeping them clustered, and pulling them all into the same plane
you know, the experts, I think of Scott Shepard and Chad Raheel who first noticed this alignment
they call it a two point six sigma or result
which means that, you know, it doesn't really meet the threshold for acceptance
The scientific..
Would you be looking at five sigma? Is that..
I mean this the standard thing is three sigma, right?
but half of all 3 sigma results are wrong, is what I always say as an observer
so the more significance the better, but two point six is not enough
so even though these clusters of asteroid orbits in the Kuiper belt provide the best evidence for Planet 9,
there's a chance that further Kuiper belt observations will find different, uncluttered orbits.
but regardless there are two other solar system mysteries that could be explained by the existence of Planet nine
These properties of Planet nine,
they seem like kind of nuts
like a period of ten thousand years, that's not like any of the planets that we have found
So why would we have such a strange planet hanging out out there?
Yeah great question
Indeed, none of this is reminiscent of anything solar system, right?
If you for a second ignore the period right and ask yourself about the mass.
Mass of five Earth masses. We don't have anything in the solar system that's five Earth masses,
We go from one to 17, when we go from Earth to Neptune
Is it wild?
Actually turns out this is the most common type of planet in the galaxy that we have discovered around other stars
It may be reversed:
that the fact that the solar system doesn't host a object which is five earth masses kind of closer to the Sun is actually kind of weird
Indeed, five earth masses as it turns out, it's kind of standard outcome of plant formation
there are more wild things out there
oh and this is really my favorite aspect of the Planet nine hypothesis
it's the fact that Planet 9 actively flips orbits on their side
you should not expect to find objects in the solar system that are flipped on their side,
and are orbiting the Sun perpendicular to the planets
and you should definitely not expect objects that are orbiting the solar system the wrong way, so to speak
Yet we find them.
Right? They exist in the Kuiper belt
and this has actually been a problem since before Planet 9 was even a thought
Planet nine has this intriguing mode of dynamical evolution
that it instills upon distant orbits where it takes them and,
at the expense of kind of circularizing these distant objects by making their orbits less elliptical
flips them upside down and then makes them more elliptical again
it's a complicated dynamical evolution
and really at a detailed level you have to go to the computer simulations to understand how it works
but the key kind of product of the existence of Planet 9
is the expectation that such objects would exist, and we see them.
and I think, really there isn't another kind of natural mechanism to generate these highly inclined bodies
you know you have the plane of most of the the bodies,
and then some of the bodies are there apparently have their orbits almost tilted up to 90 degrees
is that just weird, or is that stronger evidence for..
that's one of the things that they claim to explain with the planet 9 hypothesis,
and that's a good thing in favor of the hypothesis
but again, you know you need to find the planet to be sure what's going on
In the region that we have not yet been able to probe, because we can't see faint enough
We don't know. Yeah. We don't know.
So when do you think we're gonna find Planet 9?
That's a great question
So observing the sky has proven to be an extreme challenge
the search for planet 9 is extremely difficult
It's just kind of dim enough at the outer parts of its orbit
where it can be discovered with current telescopes,
but you, but everything has to go right
and by everything has to go right I mean no moon,
the atmosphere has to be calm so that the light is not messed up by the turbulence
such nights do come around every year, but they don't come around very often
so since 2017 we've had exactly two successful runs.
Right, successful observational runs where we had sort of a string of nights
where we could take pictures of the same part of the sky over and over again
so we are about 20%, maybe a little bit more now 25% done with the survey that we are carrying out to search for planet 9
if things go at this rate,
it might take about a decade
I think the commencement of the LSST telescope,
which is coming online 2022,23
that's gonna help a lot
because that's going to first of all discover many more of these objects
and we'll be able to refine the theoretical model better
and also just by direct observation it'll either find planet 9, or rule out a big chunk of its orbit
so we could kind of zero in that way a lot more
So it's a, it's an iterative process.
I would guesstimate a decade or less
So volumetrically we've discovered most of the solar system in the last 25 years, something like that
What do you mean volumetrically?
I mean that the volume of the region occupied by the planets is very small, it's 10,000 cubic astronomical units
but as you go further out,
you know the volume of that sphere that encapsulates all the objects that we've been able to observe,
is just going up dramatically
so if you go ten times further out,
which we are now just about able to do,
you increase the volume that you're looking at by a factor of a thousand
There's a whole bunch of stuff going on, you know solar system is, to me, an unknown place
You know, we fool ourselves to thinking that we know everything about it.
Just because we've only been looking close and we have a lot of data from spacecrafts and so on
but the further away you go, the less known it is, and the more mysterious it is
and this ninth planet thing is part of that, because essentially when you go far enough away from the Sun
there's enough room to hide almost anything you want
it will be so faint you can put almost anything
Big planets, small planets, whatever you want.
We would not have seen it yet
If or when you do find it, who gets to name it?
Oh that's something we don't think about and don't talk about
You don't have a name in the back of your head?
The... Only David Bowie.
Yeah there's a online petition on change.org to name Planet nine David Bowie,
and I thought it was kind of silly initially
but then there's this whole David Bowie like mythology that you could create
if it has moons you could have Ziggy Stardust, Starman, and all of these things
So, you know I was kinda like,
I'm not saying that seriously but also it would be kind of remarkable if we had Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune and David Bowie