Newly discovered 'goblin' world hints at the presence of Planet Nine

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Scientists have discovered yet another marker on the trail toward the putative Planet Nine. The dwarf planet is officially 2015 TG387, but has been given the nickname "the Goblin".

"I think we are nearing the 90 per cent likelihood of Planet X being real with this discovery", said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The object, a 200-mile-wide rock with the rather inelegant name of 2015 TG387, is about 7.9 billion miles from the sun. Targeted hunts can produce biased results - for example, the appearance of clustering where none may actually exist, he explained.

The team will begin a new run of observations in November, with the hope of finding more objects, possibly including the elusive Planet Nine. "The statistics get better and better that this planet is likely out there". The images were taken about 3 hours apart. Then TG387's current location would be in the Pacific, a more distant trip than NY to Honolulu.

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Sheppard, along with Northern Arizona University's Chad Trujillo and the University of Hawaii's David Tholen, spotted the Goblin in October 2015 when it was relatively nearby - around 80 AU. The researchers nicknamed the object "The Goblin", because of the discovery date and the "TG" in the provisional designation. But it wasn't publicly unveiled until now following further observations with ground telescopes. Instead, astronomers refer to its orbit in astronomical units, or AU, where 1 AU is the distance between the sun and Earth. So 2015 TG387 is way, way out there. One year on Goblin is 40 thousand earth years.

Only two known solar system bodies have more-distant perihelia than The Goblin does (2012 VP113 and Sedna), and only one (2014 FE72) has a greater aphelion distance.

Sheppard says that The Goblin's orbit fits exactly into their models of how distant objects should behave if Planet X exists, further bolstering the notion that another massive world may be hiding in our solar system. We have these objects in our solar system, called dwarf planets, that are really quite small - only 500 miles in diameter. But that's all they can really say about The Goblin's physical characteristics.

"It took us three years to figure out that it has an interesting orbit", Sheppard said. "We don't even know the color of the object; we haven't gotten any spectroscopy on the object yet, or anything like that".

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Now the same team has found a similar body whose orbit is being similarly affected. "It turns out that Planet Nine provides a natural avenue for their generation". The simulations included a super-Earth-mass planet at several hundred AU on an elongated orbit, as proposed by Caltech's Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown in 2016, building on earlier work by Sheppard and Trujillo.

Evidence of a still-undiscovered planet, called Planet Nine or Planet X by scientists, has been mounting for some time, and a newly-discovered object far out from the Sun may be the latest piece to the growing puzzle.

Meanwhile, the newfound planet Goblin very cold. "Currently we would only detect 2015 TG387 when it is near its closest approach to the sun".

"We think there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the solar system's fringes, but their distance makes finding them very hard", study co-author David Tholen of the University of Hawaii said. "These simulations do not prove that there is another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there". At TG387's most distant spot in its orbit, traveling there would be the equivalent to circling the earth seven times, or traveling three-quarters of the way to the moon.

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"And most of our surveys to date do not go that faint, do not go that deep". Perhaps someday, we'll find it. "With other large telescopes, it is like looking through a straw and thus they are good for observing things you know are there, but not for finding new things as their field of views are too small for covering large areas of sky", said Sheppard.