Scientists in California say they’ve found evidence a ninth planet lies on the fringe of our solar system, a giant icy body they dubbed “Planet Nine.”
In a paper published by Astronomical Journal, California Institute of Technology astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown said while they have not yet directly observed the planet, it is five to 10 times larger than Earth, which would make it the fifth-largest planet in the solar system, according to the Washington Post.
The astronomers inferred the planet’s existence from the motion of nearby dwarf planets and other small objects, whose orbits appear to have been shaped by the gravity of a much larger, unseen planet. While their findings are based on modeling, they told the Associated Press they expect to glimpse Planet Nine with a telescope in the next five years.
Until then, telescopes on at least two continents are searching for Planet Nine, which the astronomers said is 20 times farther away than Neptune, the eighth planet from the sun.
Brown, who tweets under the handle @PlutoKiller as a nod to his role in the research that led to Pluto’s demotion from planet to dwarf planet in 2006, said they originally set out to prove Planet Nine didn’t exist.
“My daughter, she’s still kind of mad about Pluto being demoted, even though she was barely born at that time,” he told the Post. “She suggested a few years ago that she’d forgive me if I found a new planet. So I guess I’ve been working on this for her.”
— Mike Brown (@plutokiller) January 20, 2016