Planet Nine may be a small black hole in our solar system

Planet Nine may be a small black hole in our solar system

There is a growing consensus among astronomers that beyond the gas giants of the outer solar system lurks a mysterious object, perhaps a black hole, influencing the massive cloud of small icy bodies in the Oort cloud.

And it turns out that there is some evidence to suggest that this hypothesis might be correct. No one is sure how a planet massive enough to affect the cloud of icy debris from the birth of the solar system could have formed at such a great distance from the sun.

“All we know is that there is an object of a certain mass,” said theorist Jakub Scholtz of the United Kingdom's Durham University, reporting in New Scientist. “The observations we have cannot tell us what that object is.”

And Scholtz suspects it could be a primordial black hole forged during the Big Bang, when the universe exploded. But how can we be sure, and what else could this show us about the universe?

Planet Nine Could Be a Primordial Black Hole

The object, usually called Planet Nine, has been the subject of intense scrutiny and disagreement among scientists for years, and should be between five and 15 times the mass of Earth.

No one has seen it, but if it is a primordial black hole, it would probably be no larger than a grapefruit and would remain completely undetectable to human observation unless we witnessed a distant object plunging into the tiny maw of the event horizon.

The closest confirmed black hole to Earth is in a triple star system called HR 6819, about 1,000 light years away. It is approximately four times the mass of the sun, comparatively light in the scope of the universe. But there is growing evidence that small primordial black holes abound throughout the universe, the closest of which could be a quick 10-year trip away aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons made headlines in 2015 when it performed a quick flyby of Pluto and its moon, Charon, providing scientists (and everyone else) with the first clear images of the ancient ninth planet.

Scholtz and his colleague James Unwin wrote a paper outlining the hypothesis of a dark, super-heavy object about four inches wide crawling around the edges of our solar system. If small primordial black holes abound, they could help explain other perplexing mysteries of the universe, such as how galaxies have remained in one piece over billions of years. “Primordial black holes could be […] dark matter,” Sebastien Clesse, a cosmologist at the University of Brussels in Belgium, told New Scientist.

Small fleet of probes could return close-up images of a black hole

However, until someone makes a direct observation of a primordial black hole at the edge of our solar system, it's not much more than speculation to say that we are actually living closer to a black hole than we thought. But NASA's Slava Turyshev of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California wants to flip this script by launching a fleet of tiny spacecraft designed to glide by on solar sails and try to detect the telltale gravitational disturbance that even the smallest black holes would generate. inevitably.

Turyshev's small probes could make the trip to the region of Neptune's orbit about "ten times faster" than a conventional chemical rocket, reaching their destination just a year after launch, provided they get a big energy boost. through an initial focus on the sun.

Nothing is definitive yet, but if it happens, we may have a close-up photo of our neighborhood black hole before the first people take their first step on the planet Mars.

This article was originally published in Interesting Engineering.

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