Thursday, April 07, 2016

How a Hypothetical Planet Nine Might Have Evolved

Astrophysicists at the University of Bern have modelled the evolution of the putative planet in the outer solar system. They estimate that the object has a present-day radius equal to 3.7 Earth radii and a temperature of minus 226 degrees Celsius.

How big and how bright is Planet 9 if it really exists? What is its temperature and which telescope could find it? These were the questions that Christoph Mordasini, professor at the University of Bern, and his PhD student Esther Linder wanted to answer when they heard about the possible additional planet in the solar system suggested by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The Swiss scientists are experts in modelling the evolution of planets. They usually study the formation of young exoplanets in disks around other stars light years away and the possible direct imaging of these objects with future instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope. Therefore, Esther Linder says: "For me candidate Planet 9 is a close object, although it is about 700 times further away as the distance between the Earth and the Sun." The astrophysicists assume that Planet 9 is a smaller version of Uranus and Neptune – a small ice giant with an envelope of hydrogen and helium. With their planet evolution model they calculated how parameters like the planetary radius or the brightness evolved over time since the solar system has formed 4,6 billion of years ago. The study was financed by the research project of the Swiss National Science Foundation PlanetsInTime and the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS.

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