Turns out we might not be alone out there... and the discovery comes just in time for Halloween.
A new astronomic discovery is making the idea of a huge, mysterious planet--typically called Planet 9 or Planet X--just might be lurking undetected at the edge of our Solar System.
Astronomers working in Hawaii have found a tiny object orbiting far away from the sun that may have been pushed onto its current path by Planet X's gravity. The tiny rock, officially (boringly) called TG387 but nicknamed "The Goblin" (much better) was discovered by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of Science using a giant Japanese observatory in Hawaii called Subaru. They first spotted it in 2015 and have been following it for four years as it makes its way around the sun--a process that takes "The Goblin" 40,000 years to complete, so remember that the next time you're feeling down about your progress on your own goals.
"The Goblin" is one of 14 space rocks that bear out the existence of Planet X, all on similar orbits that indicate something far bigger has "pushed" them into similar locations and paths. "Each time we find another one of these smaller objects, it will lead us to constrain where the bigger planet could be," Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at Carnegie Science, told The Verge. "They're all on very similar orbits, but their orbits are all slightly different, which [limits] where the planet could be."
Scientists have been speculating about a planet beyond Neptune for the past century, but have been getting closer and closer to proving the theory starting in 2012 with the discovery of a far-out object similar to "The Goblin." Research performed in 2016 calculated that the phantom planet is roughly 10 times the mass of Earth. "The Goblin" is unique in that it is so far away that it cannot be influenced by the most distant known planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, bearing out the theory that there's a secret planet hidden out there somewhere.
On social media, folks were delighted by the news and the rock's name alike!
While others worried about what this might mean...
And, of course, there were jokes!
All kidding aside, the discovery is a potentially monumental one. "I'm really quite confident — about a 99 percent level of confidence — that Planet 9 is really out there," CalTech researcher Konstantin Batygin told The Verge. "It might take on the order of a decade to find, but I'm quite confident it's there."
Perhaps we're not alone after all...