April 10, 2016
Cassini spacecraft did not detect Planet Nine, NASA claims
An update, but still optimistic news on the hunt for Planet Nine: redOrbit and other news sites reported that the Cassini spacecraft detected Planet Nine’s tug—and thus its potential location, but NASA claims this isn't the case.
As clarified by NASA, the Cassini spacecraft did not experience unexplained deviations in its orbit around Saturn. Instead, the gravitational pull of Planet Nine would manifest even more significantly."An undiscovered planet outside the orbit of Neptune, 10 times the mass of Earth, would affect the orbit of Saturn, not Cassini," said William Folkner, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he develops planetary orbit information used for NASA's high-precision spacecraft navigation.
"Although we'd love it if Cassini could help detect a new planet in the solar system, we do not see any perturbations in our orbit that we cannot explain with our current models," added Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
However, while Cassini’s orbit is unperturbed, Saturn’s is, according to Scientific American. In fact, nothing else in our solar system seems to be able to account for these deviations, excluding the potential Planet Nine. And so, researchers at the Côte d’Azur Observatory altered their model of the solar system, placing Planet Nine in different locations of its hypothetical orbit, until something clicked. Planet Nine existing 600 astronomical units (about 56 billion miles or 90 billion kilometers) away towards the constellation Cetus is the best fit to explain Saturn’s orbit.
But that’s not all
Continuing on its path of correction, NASA added that another recent paper—which predicted that if Cassini’s data tracking could continue until 2020, the data could reveal the most probable location for Planet Nine—was perhaps a bit optimistic, as Cassini will fall low on fuel and plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere around the end of 2017.
However, Cassini may not even be necessary to find Planet Nine. If the findings from the Côte d’Azur Observatory turn out to be true, then the new planet could be detected by the Dark Energy Survey, or perhaps by detecting the light it emits from its own internal heat.
Image credit: NASA/JPL