Scientists have discovered hundreds of new objects in the outer solar system using DES(Dark Energy Survey). The results reveal new insights about the mysterious expanse beyond Neptune, including the possibility that a massive undiscovered planet may be lurking in these dark outer reaches.
The Dark Energy Survey (DES) has as its main objective to understand the dark energy that drives the accelerated expansion of the Universe. It is generally used to observe at large scales in the depths of the Universe, but the researcher Pedro Bernardinelli and his team decided to look closer, at the edge of our Solar System.
Observations over the years have allowed them to find a total of 815 trans-Neptunian objects (objects in the Solar System beyond Neptune). 461 of these objects have never been reported before according to the latest newspaper published by arVix.
“Searching for TNOs in the DES images presents challenges since it was not optimized for this purpose,” the team notes in the study. “Despite this, the DES sample is comparable in number of objects to the largest predecessor TNO-targeted surveys” and has provided findings that “are relevant to more detailed hypotheses of the formation of the outer Solar System.”
The survey was especially adept at spotting “dynamically detached” objects and “extreme TNOs” located 150 times farther from the Sun than Earth. These objects have been the subject of much speculation in recent years, because it looks like something in the outer reaches of the solar system is gravitationally tugging at them, causing a clustering effect in their orbits.
A possible planet that plays hide and seek
What researchers have observed is that objects often cluster in their orbits. This effect usually occurs when a greater mass alters the trajectory of these objects causing them to group together and after that they travel together. However, we don’t know of anything big enough beyond Neptune in our Solar System that can cause that.
This is where the famous Planet Nine hypothesis comes into play. The Planet Nine is a supposed planet that we have not yet discovered beyond Neptune but have seen its possible effects. One of them is this grouping of trans-Neptunian objects. It is believed to be about 400 times farther from the Sun than Earth and with a mass between five and ten times that of Earth.
To complete its orbit Planet Nine would take about 20,000 years. To put this in context, Neptune takes 165 years while the dwarf planet Pluto takes 248 years. Scientists have been searching for traces of this planet for years, but have yet to snag a direct detection.
As a result, Planet Nine remains purely speculative and other hypotheses have been proposed to explain the clustering pattern seen with the extreme TNOs. It’s possible that the combined gravitational pull of many smaller objects is causing the effect, or that natural instabilities arise within this far-flung population of bodies. One team has even suggested that a black hole, not a planet, might be the entity that is warping these extreme TNO orbits.