Four objects examined in Planet 9 search
Four unknown bodies are being examined in the hope of finding the hypothetical ninth planet of our Solar System beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The ANU Planet 9 search team with BBC Stargazing Live hosts Professor Brian Cox and comedian Dara O'Briain at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory. Image Credit: ANU
Astronomers from the Australia National University are investigating four unknown objects in space that could be candidates for a new planetary member of our Solar System, following the launch of their search on this year’s BBC Stargazing Live.
The show took place over three nights from 28 - 30 March and saw Brian Cox, Dara O’Briain and Liz Bonnin broadcast live from Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales.
During the broadcast, The Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott encouraged people to get involved in the hunt for the hypothetical ninth planet in our Solar System.
Now, four potential candidates for the planet have surfaced, following the public’s contribution via the Zooniverse dedicated website.
Lead researcher Dr Brad Tucker says about 60,000 people from across the globe have helped classify four million objects in space as part of the project.
"We've detected minor planets Chiron and Comacina, which demonstrates the approach we're taking could find Planet 9 if it's there," he says.
"We've managed to rule out a planet about the size of Neptune being in about 90 per cent of the southern sky out to a depth of about 350 times the distance the Earth is from the Sun.
"With the help of tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers sifting through hundreds of thousands of images taken by SkyMapper, we have achieved four years of scientific analysis in under three days.
One of those volunteers, Toby Roberts, has made 12,000 classifications."
The team will now confirm whether the four unknown objects are the mythical Planet 9, which should be orbiting far beyond Neptune at the edge of our Solar System.
You can get involved in the project to search for Planet 9 by visiting the website here.
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Content Editor. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.