Pluto has long been regarded as something of an anomaly in our solar system. Compared to neighbouring worlds, the dwarf planet has an extremely tilted orbit which sometimes brings it closer to the sun than Neptune. Now, astronomers in Spain believe it has yet another unusual feature – the world may be harbouring two supersized planet just out of reach of our telescopes.
Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain have taken another look at the distant bodies. As well as confirming their bizarre orbital alignment, the pair found additional puzzling patterns. Small groups of the objects have very similar orbital paths. Because they are not massive enough to be tugging on each other, the researchers think the objects are being “shepherded” by a larger object in a pattern known as orbital resonance.
Scientists believe this object would be a world 10 times the mass of Earth and would orbit at 250 times Earth’s distance from the sun. And they think this planet is moving in resonance with a much larger world. They calculated that this second world would have a mass between that of Mars and Saturn, and would orbit 200 times Earth’s distance from the sun.
Seeing these planets would be difficult as the large planets would be dim and moving slowly in a large circular orbit, according to New Scientist.
The observable solar system is divided into three distinct regions including the rocky terrestrial planets such as Earth, the gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter, and the icy Kuiper Belt objects – beyond which lies the Oort cloud.
Dr Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution, who was not involved in this research said: ‘The search for these distant inner Oort cloud objects beyond Sedna and 2012 VP113 should continue as they could tell us a lot about how our solar system formed and evolved.’