Our solar system may have a ninth planet, and researchers have an idea where it came from

We all grew up learning that our sun had eight friends: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Now researchers who believe a ninth planet is actually hanging around our galactic neighborhood have a theory on how it got there. Scientists believe that the still invisible ninth planet could be a “rogue”, who entered the solar system not when it was created, but long after the fact.

The Planet Nine theory arose from the movements of objects in the Kuiper Belt, which is a disk-shaped collection of mostly small objects that exists beyond Neptune. In early 2016, Caltech scientists studying the peculiar orbits of Kuiper Belt Objects came to the conclusion that the only reason many Kuiper Belt Objects would behave this way is if a massive planet was actually pulling them with its gravity. The world would have to be on the order of 10 times the size of Earth for the calculations to work.

Like Space.com reports, a new paper by New Mexico State University undergraduate James Vesper, with help from Professor Paul Mason, accepts the theory that our solar system has a guest we didn’t know and suggests a scenario that explains its existence. After running more than 150 computer simulations to test the idea, Vesper claims the invisible planet could actually be a rogue world that was grabbed by our solar system as it floated aimlessly through space.

There are many, many rogue planets out in space, and without an orbiting star, they sometimes enter another solar system, either temporarily or for much longer periods. In Vesper’s simulations, a rogue world that made contact with our solar system ended up sticking around, either ejecting another planet or simply slipping in and creating its own little orbit. More research is underway and astronomers believe they will be able to confirm or debunk the Planet Nine theory this year.

Arline J. Mercier