Niku, the trans-Neptunian object, amazed scientists when it comes to the direction and the type of its orbit.
The space object is fully composed of ice, and it has 124 miles in diameter, which hardly makes it a candidate for a dwarf planet. Moreover, there are thousands of objects such as this in the Kuiper Belt.
Niku was first observed during the Pan-STARRS 1 survey, and its name means “rebellious” in Chinese.
The interesting thing is that Niku is far above the ecliptic which takes the Earth’s position as a criterion. While our planet is considered to be at the 0-degree point, Niku is situated at 110 degrees. The scientists believe it almost enters a retrograde orbit.
Mercury is the most inclined of the planets, and it’s located at just 7 degrees above the ecliptic. Pluto is 44 degrees above, and most of the dwarf planets are under this level of inclination. Asteroids, comets, and smaller objects can also have inclined orbits, but Niku has a size large enough not to fit with the crowd.
The astronomers try to understand Niku and its particular orbit, and they have a couple of scenarios related to its dynamic. One of them is that Niku may actually be a planet. However, its location does not permit it to be a part of the Sedna family, as it’s too close to be a real candidate.
Along with Niku there are other objects with similar weird orbits, which made scientists believe that there is something keeping them on that inclined path.
“Whenever you have some feature that you can’t explain in the outer solar system, it’s immensely exciting because it’s in some sense foreshadowing a new development,” said Konstantin Batygin, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology.
What is more amazing about Niku and its orbit is that its presence may point out to a world ten times as massive as Earth which remained undiscovered so far.
This Planet Nine is investigated by Batygin, the same scientist that declassified Pluto after he discovered the similar size object Eris. Now, Batygin believes that he found six objects with elliptical orbits indicating the presence of a larger planet.
Being situated far away from the Sun, the Planet Nine might need up to 20,000 Earth years to complete a trip around our star.
Niku and the other objects with similarly inclined orbits may be influenced by the gravitational pull of this large Planet Nine. The researchers tried to discover other dwarf planets in the area that might explain the particular movements of the objects, but with no success.
The astronomers regard all this confusion surrounding Niku with delightedness, as they hope the theoretical analysts will come up with new interesting ideas on the laws of deep space.
Image Source: Wikipedia