On Monday, astronomers led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington revealed the orbital details of the world, which they have nicknamed the Goblin. This gives astronomers confidence that all is on the outskirts of our Solar system is something else there. At its furthest point, it reaches all the way out to about 2,300 AU. A full report has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal.
Sheppard hopes to find more objects like The Goblin to further pin down the location and orbit of the potential Planet Nine.
Based on simulations using the basic parameters they have for Planet X, the researchers say the Goblin acts like it is "shepherded" by the planet but never nears the proposed massive planet.
The object with the most-distant orbit at perihelion, 2012 VP113, was also discovered by Sheppard and Trujillo, who announced that find in 2014.
The Goblin's orbit ranges far beyond the outer reaches of Pluto's home in the Kuiper Belt, as well as other Inner Oort Cloud Objects such as 2012 VP113 (also known as Biden) and Sedna. Officially designated 2015 TG387, the small and spherical object is probably a ball of ice.
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It took the team three additional years to nail down The Goblin's orbit, which they did with the aid of observations by the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona. The planet is said to be around the same size as Uranus or Neptune, and can take anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit around the Sun. As it travels along 99 per cent of its orbit, 2015 TG387 is too far and too faint to be detected. They found significant shepherding akin to that inferred for other distant objects - and determined that 2015 TG387's orbit remains stable for the age of the solar system nonetheless. The researchers nicknamed the object "The Goblin", because of the discovery date and the "TG" in the provisional designation. "They can be used as probes to understand what is happening at the edge of our solar system". They're in hot pursuit of them, as well as a potentially bigger-than-Earth planet known as Planet 9, or Planet X, believed by some scientists to be orbiting at a distance of hundreds of AU. At about 300 km (186 miles) wide, it is on the small side of being a dwarf planet.
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Sheppard and his colleagues continue their survey, the largest and deepest ever for distant solar system objects, by observing the northern and southern skies at all times of year. According to them, the orbits of those dwarf planets and asteroids suggests a hidden planet is lurking somewhere out there, messing up those orbits with its gravity.
It follows research by mathematicians at Caltech who found the existence of a massive ninth planet was the only explanation for the sculpting of the orbits of these other, smaller objects. This is similar to why Pluto never gets too close to the gas giant Neptune, although their orbits actually cross. Pluto, meanwhile, is around 34 times as far from the Sun as Earth, so The Goblin really, really gets out there.
"What makes this result really interesting is that Planet X seems to affect 2015 TG387 the same way as all the other extremely distant Solar System objects", said Trujillo.