Ever since Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet and reducing our galactic neighbourhood to a party of eight, many astronomers have been convinced there is another on the edge of the solar system.
Researchers believe they may now be close to discovering the long sought-after planet after finding many icy celestial bodies in have a ‘wonky’ orbit.
A team from the University of Arizona has revealed the gravitational pull of a Mars-sized planet may be slightly altering the objects’ trajectory through space.
The orbit of the objects – known as Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) as they are in the circumstellar disc full of icy asteroids, comets and dwarf planets which encompasses the solar system – is off by a huge eight degrees.
Kat Volk, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) and the lead author, said: “The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass.
“According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured.”
Renu Malhotra, a professor of planetary sciences at LPL, added: “Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge… If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.
“We expect each of the KBOs’ orbital tilt angle to be at a different orientation, but on average, they will be pointing perpendicular to the plane determined by the sun and the big planets.”
Confusingly, if the planet is confirmed it will not be the theorised Planet Nine – a huge body which some experts believe sits farther out.
Planet Nine is thought to be up to 20 times the size of Earth and would sit about 100 astronomical units (AU) – one AU is the distance between the Earth and sun – from Earth. This has been ruled out.
Ms Volk said: “That is too far away to influence these…