Help Find Planet 9


In January 2016 Caltech astronomers publicly theorized existence of a behemoth ninth planet orbiting the Sun.  Observations of orbital anomalies in the Kuiper Belt (a massive ring of cosmic debris extending beyond Neptune – home to once a planet Pluto and estimated 100,000 neighbors measuring over 100 Km ) hypothesized a yet to be discovered gargantuan mass was responsible for peculiar behavior of Kuiper Belt residents. In theory a planetary mass ten times greater than Earth, completes an elongated orbit a thousand times farther from the Sun once every 15-20 thousand years – astronomers dubbed it Planet 9.

This diagram show the orbits of several Kuiper Belt objects that were used to infer the existence of Planet 9. Image via ASU.

Contrary to conspiracy, alien, biblical and doomsday jibber-jabber, no proof of Planet 9 exists – science has a theory based on seven years of  sky maps courtesy the WISE space telescope (see link below). Launched in 2009, WISE was designed to detect low level infrared light, light emissions consistent with planets. WISE buckled down – over 750 million curious infrared light sources later, science needs our help.

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wise/

If Planet 9 is out there, chances are WISE has digital proof somewhere within those 750 million and counting infrared hits. Missing are enough eyes to systematically scan images for indications an object moves “apart” from surrounding cosmic pixels. Enter Zooniverse Backyard Worlds –

“We need your help searching for new objects at the edges of our solar system. In this project, we’ll ask you to help us distinguish real celestial objects from image artifacts in data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The real objects are brown dwarfs and low-mass stars, the Sun’s nearest neighbors. You may find an object closer than Proxima Centauri (the closest star to the Sun) or even discover the Sun’s hypothesized ninth planet, which models suggest might appear in these images.

What are the Sun’s nearest neighbors? You may have heard of Proxima Centauri, the star nearest the sun. But most of the Sun’s nearest neighbors are not stars, but brown dwarfs, balls of gas too big to be called planets but too small to be called stars. We’ve learned by extrapolating from recent discoveries that there is likely a hidden population of brown dwarfs floating by the solar system. This population contains the coldest known brown dwarfs, known as “Y dwarfs,” which are very similar to planets that just don’t orbit other stars. Together, we will try to find these rogue worlds to better understand how both stars and planets form.”

Backyard Worlds needs fresh eyes and plenty of them. Science doesn’t care who you are, what you do or if Kuiper Belt sounds like a foreign language – science needs help. Participants whose efforts lead to discovery will be given full credit. What are you waiting for? Join the search for Planet 9.

A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855-0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning 5 years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more brown dwarfs or even a 9th planet. Image via ASU/ NASA/WISE.

http://earthsky.org/space/help-astronomers-look-for-planet-9?mc_cid=146840be1a&mc_eid=a5b828713b

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/backyard-worlds-planet-9

Updating Pluto


Curious – ponder how quickly New Horizons Pluto mission evaporated from popular culture. Media hypes cosmic milestones for a day or two, the moment they stop trending, space exploration might try booking a booth at Comic Con. I wonder how many people could differentiate between New Horizons, Rosetta, Ceres…..

New Horizons left Cape Canaveral in January of 2006 – primary destination Pluto, with asteroid hat tips and cursory nod to Jupiter along the way. On July 14, 2015 New Horizons completed its first “fly-by” of Pluto – Pluto’s wonky orbit aside, an average of 6.09 billion kilometers from earth. Within days New Horizons tickled our fancies with thought provoking images of once a planet Pluto.

This week NASA released New Horizon’s finest work, detailed jaw droppers worthy of a last hurrah. Turns out New Horizons is one plucky little probe, delighting mission control with “can do” tenacity (and enough remaining fuel) to forge far beyond wildest dreams. “Nice to meet your acquaintance Pluto, I must be on my way, 2014 MU69 awaits”.

New Horizon’s fuel bonanza sent science to the Hubble Space Telescope. A billion miles beyond Pluto, Hubble identified “icy object” 2014 MU69 as a viable destination. This week NASA announced intent to reach it by 2019 – New Horizons is packing her bags while NASA waits for final funding approval.

Come on now, do the right thing. What’s the harm in another billion miles? Surely New Horizons attitude and lure of the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune count for something.(link to Kuiper Belt below)

http://www2.ess.ucla.edu/~jewitt/kb.html

While we wait for confirmation – New Horizons latest images of Pluto –

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Scientists call the heart-shaped feature Tombaugh Regio; it’s a smooth, icy plain. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren't sure why.

View larger. | Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren’t sure why. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Linked below – best picture gallery of New Horizons encounter with Pluto –

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Multimedia/Science-Photos/view.php?gallery_id=2