A newly discovered planet far beyond our solar system may be the key to finding the ancient planet Nibiru or Planet X.
The discovery team nicknamed the object “Farout,” and its provisional designation from the International Astronomical Union is 2018 VG18. Preliminary research suggests it’s a round, pinkish dwarf planet. The same team spotted a faraway dwarf planet nicknamed “The Goblin” in October.
“All that we currently know about 2018 VG18 is its extreme distance from the sun, its approximate diameter, and its color,” David Tholen, a researcher at the University of Hawaii and part of the discovery team, said in a statement. “Because 2018 VG18 is so distant, it orbits very slowly, likely taking more than 1,000 years to take one trip around the Sun.”
Farout is 120 astronomical units (AU) from the sun — one AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, which is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers). The object is more than 3.5 times the current distance between Pluto and the sun (34 AU), and it outpaces the previous farthest-known solar system object, the dwarf planet Eris, which is currently about 96 AU from the sun.
Farout was first spotted using the Subaru 8-meter telescope in Hawaii in November, and then a follow-up measurement in early December by the Magellan telescope in Chile confirmed its existence. According to those observations, the object is likely about 500 km across, which would mean it’s spherical and a dwarf planet. Its pinkish color suggests it’s an ice-rich body, according to the statement.
The research team is scoping out these ultradistant objects to search for the gravitational influence of a theorized super-Earth-size Planet Nine, also called Planet X, that researchers have posited orbits in the extreme reaches of the solar system. The movements of several distant bodies have suggested the existence of this planet, which would be extremely faint and hard to locate.
Because the proposed Planet 9 is so distant — between hundreds and thousands of AU, researchers told Space.com, the planet can alter the orbits of objects far too distant to be strongly influenced by the inner solar-system planets. That means that looking for trends in the orbits of objects like Farout can point the way to the mysterious planet, giving researchers hints of where to look for it and chances to test the powerful telescopes that might someday spot it.