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Exoplanet HD106906 b

14th December, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: A strange exoplanet, orbiting a double-star 336 light years away, has caught the interest of astronomers.

  • The oddball behaviour of the planet, HD106906 b, provide clues about our own mysterious Planet Nine — if it exists.

What is this exoplanet, and what is Planet Nine?

  • HD106906 b is not a new discovery: It appears in archival images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004.
  • Using data on the object’s motion over 14 years, astronomers have now precisely calculated its orbit and other key details.
  • Planet Nine is an elusive, distant planet in our own Solar System.
  • Although it has not been found yet, it has been predicted by a series of studies over the last few years, and has been described by astronomers as “hiding in plain sight”. If it exists, Planet Nine is 10 times as massive as Earth.

Why is Planet Nine believed to exist?

  • These predictions arise from the peculiar behaviour and alignment of various objects in the Solar System.
  • Astronomers believe all this is happening under the influence of Planet Nine. For example, in the outer reaches of the Solar System, beyond Neptune, there is a region called the Kuiper belt, populated by icy debris.
  • Then in 2018, astronomers reported the peculiar behaviour of another object in the Solar System, called 2015 BP519. The object orbits our Sun — but at an extreme tilt (54°) when compared to the orbits of Earth and the other seven planets. Simulations showed that the influence of Planet Nine (if it exists) would explain this tilt.