Uranium exploration could help discover mysterious Planet 9: what NASA has come up with

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Uranus may help unlock the mystery of Planet 9. Source: NASA/OBOZREVATEL

NASA's mission to Uranus could help humanity unravel the mystery of the existence or absence of a mysterious Planet 9 (known as Planet X in the days when Pluto was considered a planet, and also as the ominous Nibiru) in our solar system. The planet may exist far beyond Pluto, in the outer orbit of our system.

This is stated in a study published in the journal MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society). It is known that NASA wants to explore Uranus and is developing ideas for a mission tentatively called Uranus Orbiter and Probe.

According to scientists, NASA's research mission can not only reveal the secrets of the gas giant, but also indirectly solve one of the greatest mysteries of the Solar System.

The authors of a study by the University of Zurich, led by physicist Jozef Buko, recently conducted computer simulations that confirmed that even a small spacecraft flying to Uranus could detect the gravitational pull of the hidden planet and tell astronomers where to look for it.

The existence of Planet 9 has been a long-standing controversy in scientific circles. It is believed that the argument in favour of its existence is the behaviour of small icy objects in the Kuiper Belt, which cluster in similar long, inclined orbits, as if they are gravitationally influenced by something much larger.

According to Inverse, some astronomers believe that this mysterious object is Planet 9, which is slightly smaller than Neptune and 20 times further away from the Sun.

A computer simulation by Bako and his colleagues showed that the gravitational pull of the planets in the outer solar system (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) would affect the course of the proposed NASA mission during the long flight from Jupiter to Uranus. In space terms, the changes will be minor - about 19 kilometres over ten years and more than 1.6 billion kilometres over the entire journey.

Despite the fact that the NASA probe will be affected by other planets, Bako and his colleagues have figured out how to distinguish the gravity of distant Planet 9 from other planets. They even suggest that they will be able to tell what the mass of Planet 9 is and where to look for it.

The fact is that when spacecraft are on their way to distant places, they communicate with NASA every day. Thanks to this, engineers can determine the speed of the spacecraft to the nearest millimetre per second.

Bako and his colleagues modelled what the probe's radar data would be like during a 9-year flight to Uranus, so anything outside of that would be the influence of Planet 9.

According to the researchers, "the gravitational field of Planet 9 will produce a nearly constant acceleration throughout the mission," which is "a very clear sign of unique distant objects."

They add that the influence of Planet 9's gravity should increase with the probe's distance from the Sun, so these changes will also eventually be a sign that the spacecraft is being attracted by Planet 9.

The scientists are also convinced that they could provide astronomers with data on a two-degree-wide, two-degree-high area of the sky in which Planet 9 would be located.

This would make it easier to find, as its distance from the Sun makes it very dark and difficult to find, even with the most sensitive telescopes.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL also reported that scientists have found evidence that may confirm the existence of Planet 9.

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