A possible “Planet Nine” in Earth’s solar system would orbit far beyond Neptune’s orbit (visible as a bright ring around the sun in this artist’s illustration).
Planet Nine is out there, and astronomers are determined to find it, according to a new statement from NASA. In fact, mounting evidence suggests it’s hard to imagine our solar system without the unseen world.
The hypothetical planet is believed to be about 10 times more massive than Earth and located in the dark, outer reaches of the solar system, approximately 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune is. While the mysterious world still has yet to be found, astronomers have discovered a number of strange features of our solar system that are best explained by the presence of a ninth planet, according to the NASA statement.
“There are now five different lines of observational evidence pointing to the existence of Planet Nine,” Konstantin Batygin, a planetary astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, said in the statement. “If you were to remove this explanation and imagine Planet Nine does not exist, then you generate more problems than you solve. All of a sudden, you have five different puzzles, and you must come up with five different theories to explain them.” [The Evidence for ‘Planet Nine’ in Our Solar System (Gallery)]
Credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics artist
In 2016, Batygin and co-author Mike Brown, an astronomer at Caltech, published a study that examined the elliptical orbits of six known objects in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region of icy bodies stretching from Neptune outward toward interstellar space. Their findings revealed that all of those Kuiper Belt objects have elliptical orbits that point in the same direction and are tilted about 30 degrees “downward” compared to the plane in which the eight official planets circle the sun, according to the statement.
Using computer simulations of the solar system with a Planet Nine, Batygin and Brown also showed that there should be even more objects tilted a whopping 90 degrees with respect to the solar plane. Further investigation revealed that five such objects were already known to fit these parameters, the researchers said.
Since then, the astronomers have found new evidence that further supports the existence of Planet Nine. With help from Elizabeth Bailey, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at Caltech, the team showed that Planet Nine’s influence might have tilted the planets of our solar system, which would explain why the zone in which the eight major planets orbit the sun is tilted by about 6 degrees compared to the sun’s equator.
“Over long periods of time, Planet Nine will make the entire solar-system plane precess, or wobble, just like a top on a table,” Batygin said in the statement.
Finally, the researchers demonstrate how Planet Nine’s presence could explain why Kuiper Belt objects orbit in the opposite direction from everything else in the solar system.
“No other model can explain the weirdness of these high-inclination orbits,” Batygin said in the statement. “It turns out that Planet Nine provides a natural avenue for their generation. These things have been twisted out of the solar system plane with help from Planet Nine and then scattered inward by Neptune.”
Going forward, the researchers plan to use the Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii to find Planet Nine, and then deduce where the mysterious world came from.
The most common type of planets discovered around other stars in our galaxy has been what astronomers call “super Earths” — rocky worlds that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. However, no such planet has yet been discovered in our solar system, meaning that Planet Nine could be our missing “super Earth,” the researchers said.
Bizarre Blue 'Flashes and Glows' May Reveal Thunderstorm Secrets
Bright, blue flashes stretch from the tops of powerful thunderstorms toward the edge of space, providing a fascinating celestial show for astronauts on the International Space Station, and now, scientists are learning more about these showstopping displays.
In 2015, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen captured a video of the strange blue flashes dancing above the clouds as the space station passed over the Bay of Bengal.
These features are called blue jets — a type of transient luminous event (TLE) resulting from activity in and below powerful thunderstorms on Earth. One of the photographs captured by Mogensen showed a pulsating blue jet that stretched 25 miles (40 kilometers) above sea level, according to a statement from NASA. [Earth From Space: Amazing Astronaut Photos]
Using these observations, researchers from Denmark’s National Space Institute studied the elusive features to learn more about how storms form and develop over time. Their findings showed that 245 pulsating blue discharges were observed during the 160 seconds of video footage, which is equal to roughly 90 blue-jet flashes per minute, the researchers said in a new study describing the findings.
The study also revealed evidence of red sprites, which glow in the upper atmosphere following large lightning flashes on Earth. Red sprites are difficult to detect because they last only a few milliseconds.
In fact, visual evidence of TLEs wasn’t available until 1989. Some of the first observations of these events were of red sprites photographed by cameras on board the space shuttle, as well as from images taken during a NASA and University of Alaska airborne campaign.
Recently, however, astronauts aboard the space station have been able to capture various natural light shows on camera, including red sprites over two different storms within 3 minutes of each other — first over the American Midwest and then later near the coast of El Salvador. These red sprites, which were spotted in August 2015, stretched roughly 60 miles (100 km) above Earth, according to the statement.
Observations of strange atmospheric features like red sprites and blue jets help improve researchers’ understanding of lightning and thunderstorms, which can lead to better storm models and weather forecasts. Furthermore, researchers also aim to learn more about why storms produce different TLEs in different circumstances.
“TLE studies have been, to an extent, fortunate observation,” Tim Lang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in the statement. “We’ve gotten better at finding them, but it’s mostly case-based analysis.”
Researchers will soon have the opportunity to capture even better storm observations from space using NASA’s Lightning Imaging Sensor, which was installed on the orbiting lab in February 2017, and the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, which is slated to launch to the space station later this year. These instruments will allow researchers to analyze storms from both below and above, and closely examine thunderstorms’ impact on Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA Moon Probe Celebrates 100th Lunar Day
October means baseball playoffs, Halloween and, for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, 100 lunar days on the moon.
A lunar day is a lot longer than a day on Earth, according to a new NASA video. We measure days from noon to noon or sunset to sunset. On Earth, a day takes 24 hours, though it will vary by a up to 29 seconds because of the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. On the moon, a day is 708.7 hours, or 29.53 Earth days. On Oct. 16, the probe hit the 100 lunar-day mark.
That day length is about the same amount of time it takes for the moon to make a complete revolution around the Earth, and that’s no accident. The moon is tidally locked to the Earth, and always presents the same face to us. So its rotation period and orbital period are the same.
The Earth’s orbital and rotation periods are of course very different, with our planet making one rotation in 24 hours, but completing one orbit in a year. Since the Earth moves around the sun in a roughly circular orbit, when one rotation is finished the sun will appear slightly west of its position in the sky at the same time the day before. The Earth also wobbles a bit, which alters the length of a day by a small amount.
A similar thing happens to the moon. The 100 days LRO passed are mean solar days — an average. The length of a day on the moon can vary, being 6 hours shorter or up to 7 hours longer than the mean of 28.53 Earth days, for the same reasons that the Earth’s day can vary, plus one other: The moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle. The moon also wobbles a bit from side to side (a phenomenon called libration), so from Earth a sliver of the far side is periodically visible.
Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO was originally planned to last about a year. It has been extended numerous times since then. The probe orbits between 12 miles (20 kilometers) and 103 miles (165 km) above the lunar surface, investigating the lunar topography and radiation environment, keeping an eye out for water.
Supermoon 2017: When and How to See December’s 'Full Cold Moon'
A “supermoon” rises over the U.S. Capitol Building in this NASA photo captured on July 31, 2015. Another supermoon will rise on Sunday (Dec. 3, 2017).
When the “Full Cold Moon” rises on Dec. 3, it will also be the first and last “supermoon” of 2017.
Supermoons happen when a full moon approximately coincides with the moon’s perigee, or a point in its orbit at which it is closest to Earth. This makes the moon appear up to 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than usual.
The moon becomes totally full at 10:46 a.m. EST (1546 GMT) on Sunday (Dec. 3). It will officially reach perigee the next day (Dec. 4) at 3:45 a.m. EST (0845 GMT), when it is 222,135 miles (357,492 kilometers) away from Earth. [Supermoon Secrets: 7 Surprising Big Moon Facts]
What is a supermoon?
While the moon’s average distance is 238,000 miles (382,900 km) from Earth, its orbit isn’t perfectly circular, so that distance varies a small amount. When it reaches apogee, or its farthest distance from Earth, on Dec. 19, it will be 252,651 miles (406,603 km) away. That’s a difference of 30,516 miles (48,110 km) — but the moon’s distance from Earth can vary more than that.
The perigee for December’s supermoon won’t even be the closest this year; that happened May 25, when the not-so-super new moon was 221,958 miles (357,208 km) away from Earth. That date didn’t coincide with a full moon, though, so it didn’t qualify as a supermoon.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com
Supermoons don’t happen every month because the moon’s orbit changes orientation as the Earth goes around the sun. So, the long axis of the moon’s elliptical path around the Earth points in different directions, meaning that a full (or new) moon won’t always happen at apogee or perigee.
When to see the supermoon
In New York City, the full moon will rise the evening of Dec 3. at 4:59 p.m. local time. Moonset will be the morning of Dec. 4 at 7:50 a.m., according to timeanddate.com. The sun sets at 4:28 p.m. on Dec. 3, so the full moon and the sun will not be visible at the same time, at least in New York.
If you want to see both in the sky at once, you need to go below the equator. In Wellington, New Zealand, the full moon happens at 4:46 a.m. local time on the morning of Dec. 4, and sets at 6:10 a.m., half an hour after the sun rises at 5:41 a.m.
Look for the full moon in the constellation of Taurus. Though the moon is officially full on Dec. 3, it will still appear full to the casual observer the night before and after.
A lunar occultation
As it did in November, the full moon will pass in front of, or “occult,” the bright star Aldebaran. This event will be visible from northern Canada, Alaska, eastern Russia, Kazakhstan, much of China and as far south as Bangladesh.
In the continental U.S., residents of Washington state can catch the occultation; People in Seattle will see the predawn moon pass in front of Aldebaran at 6:09 a.m. local time, reappearing at 6:46 a.m. In Boise, Idaho, the occultation will start at 7:15 a.m., but skywatchers there won’t get to see Aldebaran reappear from behind the moon, as the occultation ends after the moon sets at 7:43 a.m.
In Anchorage, Alaska, Aldebaran disappears behind the moon at 4:38 a.m. local time and reappears at 5:32 a.m. The moon becomes full soon after that at 6:46 a.m. local time, setting at 9:20 a.m. Canadian observers in Vancouver will see the occultation start at 6:06 a.m. and end at 6:46 a.m. (Full moon is at 7:46 a.m.)
Observers in Asia will see more of the occultation. In Beijing, the event starts at 7:54 p.m. local time and ends at 8:37 p.m. — better timed for those who’d rather not get up too early.
How the Full Cold Moon got its names
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the name of the full moon in December is “Full Cold Moon,” and given the weather in December (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), that’s not a surprise.
This is also reflected in the names from native peoples of North America. According to the Ontario Native Literacy Project, the Ojibwe called December’s full moon “Mnidoons Giizis,” the “Big Spirit Moon” or “Blue Moon.” For the Ojibwe, it marked the 12th calendar month, and was a time for healing. The Haida of the Pacific Northwest called it the “Snow Moon,” or “Ta’aaw Kungaay.”
Among the Hopi, whose ceremonial life revolved around the lunar and solar cycles, the lunation just before the winter solstice was the “Sparrow-Hawk” moon, as noted by Janet Sharp of Washburn University in her study of Hopi mathematical concepts and teaching.
In the Southern Hemisphere, December is summertime. The Māori of New Zealand described the lunar months in November to December as Hakihea, or “birds are now sitting in their nests,” according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
In China, the traditional lunar calendar calls the December lunation the 10th month. Called Yángyuè, or Yang month, it’s named for the yang ― the masculine, positive principle of Taoism familiar to Westerners as part of the yin and yang.
These scientists beat the bookies — until the online casino shut them down
Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma Quilt let us sleep warm and pack light
The Walking Dead’ creator Robert Kirkman dishes deep on his next big project
How to Stay Calm Under Pressure
Here’s how you can get your hands on the iPhone X
Rapper B.o.B Wants to Launch a Satellite to See if Earth Is Flat
Bored with ironing? Effie quickly irons up to 12 items of clothing at once
Apple iPhone X vs. LG V30: Battle of the bezel-less beauties
SNES Classic supports the same hack that expanded the NES Classic’s library
6 Rules for Meeting Millennial Customer Service Expectations
- Technology2 weeks ago
Google Pixel 2 XL vs. Apple iPhone 8 Plus
- Business2 weeks ago
3 Ways Philanthropy Can Add to Your Company Culture
- Business1 week ago
Richard Branson Shares 6 Crazy, Funny and Downright Harsh Encounters With Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Kate Moss and More
- Business2 weeks ago
17 Ways to Calm Down When You're Stressed
- Space2 weeks ago
'Destination Moon' Exhibit Marks Return to Houston for Apollo 11 Spacecraft
- Business2 weeks ago
Why You Can't Afford to Ignore Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Anymore
- Business1 week ago
What No 40-Year-Old Can Tell You About Modern Entrepreneurship
- Business2 weeks ago
How He Convinced 300,000 People to Work With Him, From Malaysia