According to new research, the hypothetical Planet Nine could one day be responsible for the expulsion of a number of planets from our solar system, including Neptune, Jupiter and the dwarf planet Pluto. However, there is no need for immediate concern, as the proposed cosmic eviction would take place some seven billion years in the future, following the demise of planet Earth at the hands of our dying star.
Planet Nine is a hypothetical world believed by some to orbit at the fringes of our solar system. In January 2016, a study was published suggesting that the unusual orbits of six Kuiper belt objects were due to the gravitational influence of a previously unknown world. Since the presence of the planet was theorized, further studies have put forward theories regarding the potential orbital path, and even the composition of the ghost planet.
Whilst the potential for such a planet to act like a cosmic wrecking ball is like catnip to conspiracy theorists, there is currently no evidence to suggest that our phantom is in any way a herald of the apocalypse. However, according to the new research carried out by Dr. Dimitri Veras of the University of Warwick, the planet could make a serious nuisance of itself in the aftermath of the death of our star.
Scientists believe that our Sun will end its life in around around seven billion years when, having exhausted the supply of hydrogen needed to maintain the nuclear fusion process at its core, it expands into a red giant, consuming Earth in the process. Finally, our Sun will transform into the husk of a dead star known as a white dwarf. During the final stages of its evolution, our star will shed a phenomenal amount of mass.
This ejection of material will likely force Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus into more distant orbits. Using a computer simulation designed to model interactions between the bodies of our solar system during this tumultuous period, Veras discovered that Planet Nine could actually be drawn in to a closer orbit.
From this position, its gravitational influence could manipulate at least one of the current solar system bodies into an escape trajectory. According to the simulation, the more distant the orbit of Planet Nine following the period of upheaval, the more likely it is that solar system bodies will be ejected in a kind of "pinball" process.
"The existence of a distant massive planet could fundamentally change the fate of the solar system" states Veras. "Uranus and Neptune in particular may no longer be safe from the death throes of the Sun. The fate of the solar system would depend on the mass and orbital properties of Planet Nine, if it exists."
By modeling the death throws of our star, scientists can gain a better understanding of distant white dwarf systems, almost half of which have been observed to contain rocky debris. This debris could have resulted from the influence of a Planet Nine-like body, swooping in from the outer reaches of a system to wreak havoc with neighboring planets.
It is also worth noting the theory that Planet Nine may have formed around an alien star. If this were to be true, and the events listed above came to pass, it would make the hypothetical world something of a cosmic cuckoo, forcing out our Sun's true-born planets while remaining in the nest of our solar system itself. It is of some small consolation that Earth won't be around to witness the massacre, if it actually comes to pass.
Source: University of Warwick
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