Planet Nine and the Icy Rockettes
By R. D. Flavin

1-29-2016


An artist's depiction of what “Planet 9” may look like.

     Mother Very Easily Made A Jam Sandwich Using No Peanuts, Mayonnaise, or Glue, used to be a popular mnemonic for remembering the sequential order of the planets and the asteroid Belt (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto, Mickey, and Goofy), at least until 2006 when Pluto was downgraded from a 'planet' to a trans-Neptune-object (TO), Kuiper Belt object (KBO) or 'dwarf planet.” Calling everything past Pluto in the Kuiper Belt “plutinos,” is just mean... After studying the odd orbits of several KBOs, Prof. Batygin, assistant professor of planetary science, and Prof. Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy, of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, concluded in a paper published last week (Batygin and Brown 2006), the existence of a huge (likely gaseous) planet deep within the Kuiper Belt among dwarf-planets, orbiting rocks chunks of ice, and have tentatively named it “Planet Nine.” So, no more Pluto (Mickey and Goofy), but we might have Planet Nine and the Icy Crockett's.


The "dwarf-planet" Pluto and the major Kuiper Belt objects (including the 'proposed' Planet Nine.

     Okay, in Classical Antiquity we had the Sun (“Sol”), the Moon (“Luna”), and the five planētēs (Greek πλανήτης or the 'wanderers'), Mercury, Venus (aka both the Morning Star and the Evening Star because of its brightness), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, as it was believed everything revolved around the Earth (“Terra”), not the Sun, and the planets' strange orbits, in contrast to the known and predictable appearances of certain stars, seemed to 'wander' around the night sky. The brightest stars seen with the naked eye are Sirius, Canopus, Rigil kentaurus (Alpha Centauri), Arcturus, and a host of others who make up various constellations (i.e., asterisms or connect-the-dot [or star] imaging), different in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and then, of course, we have the wondrous Milky Way with its 100 to 400 billion stars. Though glimpsed occasionally in antiquity, and often during Medieval times, Uranus was regarded as a comet until recognized as a planet with our solar system in 1783. Likewise, Galileo with his homemade telescope saw an object in the night sky he believed to be a “fixed star” in 1612 and 1613, though it wasn't until 1846 Neptune was 'officially' discovered, named, and joined Sol's league of planets. Pluto was discovered in 1930 and immediately established the number of planets revolving around the Sun as nine. Ceres, discovered in 1801, was initially thought to be planet, though in the 1850s downgraded to an asteroid, and still later regarded as a “dwarf-planet” residing in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. As telescopes and mathematical astronomy improved, especially after the discovery of Pluto, it was theorized other smaller planetary objects beyond Pluto may exist, in 1951 , Gerard Kuiper made such a speculation, though he doubted the objects existed today and were likely destroyed in antiquity. Between the 1970s and the 1980s, many small planetoids were discovered between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune and collectively became known as the “centaurs.” It wasn't until 1980 when the Uruguayan astronomer Julio Fernández hypothesized many comets originated in the Oort cloud ( named after Ernst Öpik and Jan Ort who in 1932 theorized the existence of a vast area at the outermost edge of our solar system, far beyond Pluto, where many comets originated from – the so-called “inner Oort cloud” is sometimes known as the Hills cloud after Jack G. Hills who suggested its existence in 1981). In 1998, a team of Canadian researchers ran a series of computer simulations to account for the existence and orbits of many comets within the Oort cloud and named and designated a region they called the Kuiper belt in memory of Kuiper's 1951 proposal (despite he himself didn't believe in its existence). Beyond the Sol's gravitational influence, the farthest edge of the theoretical Oort cloud, lies ...nothingness, until you get to the next star-system of Alpha Centauri. Though, (15760) 1992 QB1 was discovered in 1992 by David C. Jewitt and Jane X. Luu at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, it remains unnamed and after 1998, recognized as a Kuiper belt object or KBO. Did ya' get all that? We'll take a quiz later...

     While science fiction has always been one of my favorite literary genres, science and the scientific method continues to excite and amaze me. The hypothesis of 'Planet Nine' was immediately followed by a plea for any astronomer with a telescope, amateur or professional, to turn their lenses toward and past Pluto in an attempt to 'see' this possible Planet Nine. Fortunately, science moves forward in ways which don't involve the exact sciences of mathematics and astronomy (Neugebauer 1951). Now, there is the sad realization we may have reached an end of testable physics, as after the discovery of the “God Particle” or Higgs boson, a quantum excitation of the Higgs field which is crucial to particle physics (though the field,as understood now, is weak, yet should be some ten-thousand-trillion times stronger), physisists must await future tests and discoveries at CERN and the Large Hadron Collider. Also, there's the paradox of so-called “Dark Matter” which is hypothesized to occupy some 10 to the 120th degree of matter in the universe, but it remains a math model only with no demonstrable evidence as of yet.

     But, we are still exploring our home, Mom Terra. There's still so much of Earth to investigate and discover, both on land and under water. South Pole researchers have recently identified a massive canyon beneath the ice of Antarctica thought to be larger than our Grand Canyon. Recently a team of scientists have identified a new species of bird, the Himalayan forest thrush, Zoothera salimalil, in northeastern India and parts of China (Alström et al. 2016). And, with shovel, screen, and brush, archaeologists have dug up, carbon-dated, and concluded they have found evidence of “organized violence” or 'war' in a remote area of northern Kenya dating back to 9,500 to 10,5000 years ago (Lahr et al. 2016). As we await the completion of the James Webb Space telescope, we may have to settle for asking 'why' the Chinese are purposely genetically engineering autistic monkeys. Some say they've found new bacterial growth in the oil-polluted Gulf waters and it seems as if everyday brings something new to the scientific table.

     Amid the chunks of ice and rock, comets, TROs and KBOs, the “plutinos” or possible dwarf-planets of the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud, if a “Planet Nine” is proven to exist, we'll just have to come up with a different mnemonic to memorize our solar system. Of course, it would help if we gave this hypothetical planet a name at some point. I'd vote for calling it “Trump,” after the farthest object or planet from humanity on Earth. Yet, any name will do as long as science supports the existence of “Planet Nine.”


Based on the poster for 1959's Plan 9 From Outer Space starring Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Tor.

Dedicated to the brave pilot and helpers who rescued the dying former British Lt. Colonel Alastair Edward Henry Worsley, MBE (1960-2016), thirty miles short of his foolish attempt at a 950 mile solo walk across Antarctica (supposedly for charity), and the skilled Chilean physicians who attempted to save his life from a fatal bacterial peritonitis infection.  All would have been better had he stayed home and simply written a check.

Bibliography:

Alström et al.  2016. “Integrative Taxonomy of the Plain-backed Thrush (Zoothera mollissima) Complex (Aves Thurdidae) reveals Cryptic Species, including a New Species.” By Per Alström, Pamela C. Rasmussen, Chao Zhao, Jingzi Xu, Shashank Dalvi, Tianlong Cai, Yuyan Guan, Ruiying Zhang, Mikhail V. Kalyakin, Fumin Lei, and Urban Olsson.  Avian Research. 7: 1-39. doi: 10.1186/s40657-016-0037-2.  Retrieved 1-26-2016. Free article or PDF online at: http://avianres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40657-016-0037-2.

Batygin and Brown. 2016. “Evidence for a Distant Planet in the Solar System.” By Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown. The Astronomical Journal. 151, 22: 1-12. doi:10.3847/0004-6256/151/2/22. Retrieved 1-21-2016. Free article or PDF available at: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/0004-6256/151/2/22/meta;jsessionid=F1F172750E08AAD34C65035BB24BF948.c5.iopscience.cld.iop.org.

Lahr et al. 2016. “Inter-Group Violence among Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya.” By M. Mirazón Lahr, F. Rivera, R. K. Power, A. Mounier, B. Copsey, F. Crivellaro, J. E. Edung, J. M. Maillo Fernandez, C. Kiarie, J. Lawrence, A. Leakey, E. Mbua, H. Miller, A. Muigai, D. M. Mukhongo, A. Van Baelen, R. Wood, J.-L. Schwenninger, R. Grün, H. Achyuthan, A. Wilshaw, and R. A. Foley. Nature. 529: 394-398. doe: 10.1038/nature16477.

Neugebauer, Otto. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (Vol. IX of Acta historica scientiarum naturalium et medicinalium). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wondering how a trans-Neptune-object fits into the LGBT community,


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