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Planet Nine Captures the World's Imagination
In the past few years, there has been an explosion of interest in the mysterious Planet 9. To briefly recap, in 2014 astronomers Chad Trujillo and Scott Sheppard proposed the possible existance of a large planet beyond Neptune after studying the orbits of objects beyond the Kuiper belt. In 2017, NASA stated that Planet 9 does exist. Our new neighbor planet has been estimated to have an estimated mass of 10 Earths, a diameter two to four times that of Earth. The highly eliptical orbit lasts approximately 15,000 years. To put it mildly, Planet Nine is way, way out there.
Even though it hasn't been sighted yet, there has been no hesitation from scientists to speculate on the planet's origin. One theory has Planet 9 being a gas giant that formed in the inner solar solar system before straying too close to Jupiter and getting itself thrown out into an orbit past Neptune. A second theory proposes that the planet is not a gas giant but a giant snowball that packed itself up in a very slow and very cold version of the accretionary process that formed the Earth. The third theory is that Planet 9 could have been a planet from another solar system. In the early days of the solar system, close encounters with neighboring stars would have been much more common. It’s possible that the outer edges of our solar system once exchanged material, including planets, with another.
The excitement of Planet 9 has also attracted some non-scientific speculation. There has been speculation that Planet 9 is really the planet Nibiru that was proposed by Zecharia Sitchin in 1970. The Soviet-born Sitchin wrote about Nibiru, a proposed distant planet in our solar system. The name comes from Babylonian astrology and relates to astronomical objects. Sitchin developed his planet theory after interpreting ancient texts and biblical writings. His interpretations have been widely criticized, but what does he care? His books have sold millions of copies. According to Sitchin, Nibiru features an elongated, elliptical orbit and comes nearest to Earth every 3,600 years. Venturing into science fiction ideas and passing it off as science, Sitchin proposed ancient astronauts from the mysterious planet visited Earth about 400,000 years ago and genetically engineered the inhabitants into the human race. (I just love that part of this idiotic theory.)
Despite Sitchin's death in 2010, his website is still maintained and, for some reason, many still take his crackpot ideas seriously. The website addressed the discovery of a Planet 9. "With an elliptical orbit of 10,000 or 20,000 of our years, this planet may not be Nibiru, which has an orbit of about 3,600 of our years," a post on his website states. "However, this prediction of a likely additional planet in our solar system is exciting news. Perhaps the search will lead us to either finding Nibiru, or perhaps we'll find that something has changed and impacted Nibiru's orbit since the last time it orbited Earth."
There also has been the crazy news articles. In 4/11/16, an article in the U.K. tabloid the Sun had this disturbing headline: “Mysterious Planet Wiped Out Life on Earth Once and Could Do It Again THIS MONTH”. Not to be outdone by the Brits, lunatics at the New York Post then published a video claiming that Planet Nine could send asteroids and comets hurtling into Earth soon, with potentially devastating consequences. The video stated, "A newly discovered planet could destroy Earth as soon as this month." It is indeed fortunate that the wonderful journalists at the Sun and the New York Post were wrong and we all somehow survived the dire predictions of destruction.
Why all the hype—be it scientific or crackpot? Much of the excitement of Planet 9 may stem from the long awaited, revealing photos of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. When the New Horizons gave us the first look at what Pluto looked like, it lifted the veil from the mysterious dwarf planet. Now we are are moving on and looking to the next mystery and the next unknown. The idea that the mysterious Planet 9 is out there and has never been seen stokes our imagination and our inner need for discovery. We will be speculating about and thinking about Planet 9 for a long time. It is 600 times farther from the sun than our planet is. Unfortunately we are not going to visit this mystery planetanytime soon.
A little closer to home - for your reading entertainment, we at the Quantum Muse, have tried to compile the very best in imagination and Science Fiction discovery in this months edition. Enjoy!
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