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KU expert available to speak to reporters about potential discovery of new planet

Thursday, January 21, 2016

LAWRENCE — Yesterday, scientists at the California Institute of Technology announced the possible detection of a ninth planet orbiting the Sun. According to the Caltech researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, indirect detection suggests “Planet Nine” orbits about 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune. The planet has yet to be confirmed via direct visual observation.

Bruce Twarog, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, is available to speak to the media about the announcement.

"Based primarily upon the analysis of the shape, orientation and inclination of the orbits of six trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), two astronomers at Caltech, building upon a previous study in 2014, have concluded that the improbable orbital alignments of the six TNOs can best be explained as the gravitational side effect of a long-term interaction with a previously unknown planet approximately 10 times the mass of Earth orbiting the sun on a highly noncircular orbit,” Twarog said.  

The KU astronomer said the proposed new planet acts like a shepherd, preventing the orbital alignment of the six TNOs from dispersing over time.

“While, like Neptune, the existence of the supposed planet is inferred via its gravitational influence on other solar system objects, unlike Neptune, the predicted orbit of the planet and its current location within that orbit are poorly defined, making it certain that if this claim is confirmed, it will come about the old-fashioned way, through an extensive search for moving objects on deep exposures of the night sky obtained with large telescopes,” he said. “What the study provides for the first time in decades is a physical reason to believe that there may actually be a planetary needle in the stellar haystack.”

Twarog’s research centers on observational astronomy and astrophysics. He concentrates on the application of precision photometry with intermediate-bandwidth optical filters to understand stellar and galactic evolution.

To schedule an interview with Twarog, contact Brendan M. Lynch at 785-864-8855 or Brendan@ku.edu

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