Samantha Lawler, a Plaskett Fellow at the National Research Council - Herzberg, discusses the possibility of Planet 9 and recent discoveries made about the Kuiper Belt at the March meeting of the Nanaimo Astronomy Society. Photo submitted

Questions about solar system’s Planet 9 will be posed in Nanaimo next week

Astronomer discusses possibility of planet’s existence at Nanaimo Astronomy Society meeting March 28

Could a massive planet be wandering the far regions of our outer solar system?

Guest speaker Samantha Lawler discusses whether a theoretical planet is “Planet 9 or Planet Nein?” at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s meeting next week.

Originally from Los Angeles, Lawler received her B.Sc. in astrophysics from California Institute of Technology. She came to Canada to earn her PhD at the University of British Columbia and was a lecturer the University of Victoria. Lawler is a Plaskett Fellow at the National Research Council – Herzberg since 2015.

Her presentation will discuss discoveries surrounding the search for Planet 9.

“Planet 9 is not an actual discovery. It’s a theory that was proposed to explain the orbits of a few Kuiper Belt objects that are kind of strange,” Lawler said. “The theory is that there’s this unseen mass out there that’s affecting the orbits of some of the most distant Kuiper Belt objects.”

The Kuiper Belt, where most comets come from, is a doughnut-shaped cloud of debris encircling the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune – about 30 AU (30 times the distance from Earth to the sun) to about 50 AU.

Based on observations, if Planet 9 exists it’s estimated to be about five to 10 times Earth’s mass – roughly half as massive as Neptune – and has an elongated orbit that ranges from 400 AU to 800 AU from the sun, an orbit far beyond Neptune, Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Proving whether Planet 9 exists, or at least determining what is affecting orbits of Kuiper Belt objects, could lead to better understanding of how our solar system formed, how it compares with others discovered, so far, and potentially predicting the possibility for formation of life on exoplanets.

“Right now we know a lot about the inner parts of some planetary systems and we know a lot about the very distant outer parts of planetary systems, but we don’t know which ones match up to which, so our solar system, we don’t really know if it’s weird or if it’s normal,” Lawler said. “We’re just starting to get to the point where we can, maybe, say something about that … Our solar system’s the only one we know of right now that has life. Does it matter how the planets are configured? Is that really important for life or can life be anywhere? That’s the biggest question in my mind that you could ask.”

The problem with the Planet 9 theory, for Lawler, boils down to “observational biases” that arise when results are derived from observations made on the most distant Kuiper Belt objects, which she said don’t appear to behave as if they’re being influenced by a massive planet.

“I was part of a large international Kuiper Belt survey … and we tried to discover as many Kuiper Belt objects as we could while taking into account all the possible observing biases,” Lawler said. “So when we found an equivalent group of very distant Kuiper Belt objects, we found that they’re consistent with a totally uniform distribution. If Planet 9 exists it should be making these very distant Kuiper Belt orbits cluster so they’re all kind of pointed in the same direction, but we did not find that at all. We found that, when you take into account the observing biases, they’re not clustered.”

Lawler will also talk about other recent discoveries from the Kuiper Belt, including some made by the New Horizons space probe that photographed object 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule. Some images received from the probe have scientists scratching their heads over what it is and where it came from.

“The most recent images that they got back implied that, not only is it shaped like a snowman, but it’s actually flat,” Lawler said. “So it’s not like a snowman. It’s like two pancakes stuck together and nobody, no theorist ever, predicted that.”

Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s March meeting happens March 28, 7-9 p.m. at Beban Park social centre.

To learn more, visit the society’s website at https://www.nanaimoastronomy.com/.



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A presentation at the next Nanaimo Astronomy Society meeting will discuss recent discoveries made about the Kuiper Belt, including object 2014 MU69, photographed in January by the New Horizons space probe. Photo:NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Just Posted

Nanaimo RCMP seek help locating missing indigenous youth

Family of William Baker worries he’s in company of people putting him at risk

Nanaimo man wanted on assault warrants

John Bates wanted following two separate incidents from earlier this year

Stz’uminus motivational speaker and musician named ‘emerging cultural leader’ in Nanaimo

Patrick Aleck is among the recipients of the city’s Culture and Heritage Awards

Plan in place for B.C. Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Parcel stolen from front porch, Nanaimo RCMP looking for suspect

Unidentified woman allegedly stole package containing $400 smart watch

Most Read