A newfound object nicknamed “The Goblin” lurking in the far reaches of our solar system could be yet another clue that points us toward the discovery of the theoretical Planet X, or Planet 9 — a large world thought to exist well beyond Pluto’s orbit.
A new study, submitted to the Astronomical Journal, details the discovery of the new object, officially named 2015 TG387, which takes about 40,000 years to make a full orbit of the sun.
The possible world joins the ranks of other relatively small objects in its part of space.
And lead author of the study Scott Sheppard believes there are thousands of these extremely distant objects with elongated orbits around the sun.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Sheppard said in an interview.
This distant object, along with a couple others previously found by Sheppard and his colleagues, has a fairly unusual path which is thought to be created when a smaller object interacts with a larger one in the past.
That’s where Planet X — thought to be slightly smaller than Neptune, but much farther from the sun — comes in.
“These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X,” Sheppard said in a statement. Scientists hope to map the orbits of these smaller, distant objects in order to figure out exactly where Planet X may be.
“The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits—a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the solar system’s evolution,” Sheppard said.
That said, little is known about The Goblin. Sheppard explained that since the research team wasn’t able to use a spectrometer to study the object, it’s hard to figure out its exact composition.
But still, they understand a bit about it.
The team found that the object is spherical and is roughly 300 kilometers in diameter. For reference, 300 kilometers is about 186 miles, which is less than the distance between New York City and Boston. This puts 2015 TG387 at the smaller end of dwarf planet spectrum.
Meredith Hughes, an astronomer at Wesleyan University who is unaffiliated with the new study, said Sheppard’s findings are exciting and could help answer bigger questions.
“If we can understand the evolution of our own planetary system, it gives us key insights that allow us to figure out how common solar systems like ours might be around other stars,” Hughes said.
But the finding is also a reminder that we have a long way to go, “I think that with all of the exciting exoplanet discoveries in recent decades, people often lose sight of the fact that the only planet in our own solar system we could reliably detect around another star like the Sun is Jupiter.”
Hughes said that until technology advances, our own solar system will be the only place where we will be able to study orbits in detail, which is integral to determining how solar systems evolve.