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New study deepens the controversy over Planet Nine's existence

Astronomers release new data to challenge claims about the mysterious Planet Nine.

Artist's impression of Planet Nine. Neptune's orbit is the small ellipse around the Sun.

Credit: Tomruen
  • University of Pennsylvania astronomers used Dark Energy Survey data to challenge the existence of Planet Nine.
  • Planet Nine was proposed to inhabit the outer reaches of our solar system, past Neptune.
  • The new data shows numerous smaller objects in that part of space but maybe no new planet.

Is there a mysterious Planet Nine hiding in the outskirts of our solar system? While there've been hypotheses making such claims, a new study looks to disprove its existence.

The research from astronomers at the University of Pennsylvania strikes at the heart of the clues that led some to believe such a planet was there. From 2014, astronomers have been suggesting various explanations for the behavior of so-called "trans-Neptunian objects" (eTNOs) that are farther from the Sun than Neptune. These rocks in the outer reaches were previously found to be clumped together, traveling in an elongated orbit, as reports New Scientist. One reason for that could be that they were pulled by the gravity of a giant planet that is five to 10 times the mass of Earth. One fascinating idea proposed about such a possible planet is that it may be responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs, as it knocks catastrophic comets towards Earth when it passes through the Kuiper belt once every 27 million years.

The new research shows, however, that there may not be any clustering trans-Neptunian rocks at all. The scientists used data from the Dark Energy Survey, carried out at a Chilean observatory.

The University of Pennsylvania astronomer Pedro Bernardinelli, the lead author of the paper, thinks their data doesn't bode well for Planet Nine's probability.

"We would not have formulated the Planet Nine idea if our data was the only data that existed," said Bernardinelli to New Scientist. The scientist's previous 2020 study, also using data from the Dark Energy Survey, found 316 trans-Neptunian objects, including 139 minor planets in the space past Neptune. The researcher's works ultimately seems to show that the faraway region is inhabited by numerous small objects which are uniformly distributed rather than grouped.

While the scientists write that their data does not "require a "Planet 9" hypothesis," they nonetheless admit that "The limited sky coverage and object count mean, however, that the DES data by no means falsify this hypothesis."

How ‘The Goblin’ may unravel the mystery of Planet Nine

Samantha Lawler from the University of Regina, Canada, who was not involved in the study, also thinks there's still a chance the Planet Nine could still be out there. "The way that the Planet Nine hypothesis is constructed is that it's completely impossible to falsify it — the only way to prove it's not there is to search every square centimeter of the sky and not find it," she commented to New Scientist.

Read the new paper now at arXiv.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by climate change, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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Politics & Current Affairs

How #Unity2020 plans to end the two-party system, bring back Andrew Yang

The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.

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