Jan 18, 2015 03:35 PM EST
While space agencies and astronomers alike have found that the outer fringes of our very own solar system holds small asteroids and chunks of ice, as opposed to life, it turns out that our investigation of the relatively small solar system is far from over. In fact, a pair of new studies published just this week reveal that we may be adding new members to the roster as at least two new planets larger than Earth are likely hiding beyond Pluto.
The international consortium of astronomers published their findings this week in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, revealing that much may still be discovered beyond Pluto's vast distances and within the boundaries of the Oort Cloud.
Based on calculations of large celestial bodies well past Neptune, such as the Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud, researchers have discovered that 13 so-called "Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects" (ETNO) show symmetry unexpected in asteroids or other masses. And this leads researchers to believe that some may in fact be small planets.
Looking to their orbits in particular, to find out whether or not the ETNOs are circling the sun, the researchers found that while all should have a semi-major axis of 150 astronomical units (AU) and an inclination of nearly 0 degrees, relative to the sun, that there was actually a wide variety in the values calculated by the studies.
While some of the semi-major axes were 150 AU as expected, others ranged as high as 525 AU-and the averaging inclination bolstered a high 20 degrees, with respect to the sun. These discrepancies sparked interest in the research, and the astronomers are now saying that the values may have large implications for the study of space as a whole.
"This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNO," researcher with Complutense University of Madrid, Carlos de la Fuente Marcos says. "We consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto."
Since current imaging technology cannot yet capture the proposed planets at such distances from Earth, the researchers plan to continue their studies until they can conclude what the masses may be, and if they truly are planets orbiting the sun. And the researchers are hopeful that they may find celestial masses even larger than some of our current planets, just beyond the outskirts of Pluto.
"The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system," de la Fuente Marcos says. "If it is confirmed, our results may be truly revolutionary for astronomy."
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