Hell Planet Nine

 

Is there a ninth planet lurking beyond the orbit of Neptune?

Astronomers have been observing strange gravitational patterns of a cluster of bodies known as “trans-Neptunian objects,” or TNOs, that could be explained by the presence of  massive ninth planet in our solar system. The hypothetical planet, dubbed “Planet Nine,” would orbit our star at hundreds of times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

It’s been a contentious topic, with some writing off the odd behavior of TNOs as being caused by a cluster of much smaller space rocks. Others predict that such a planet would be five times the mass of the Earth, orbiting our star at about 400 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Finally, there’s the possibility that Planet Nine is actually a teeny-tiny black hole left over from the Big Bang. So tiny, in fact, that it’d only measure about five centimeters across — basically impossible to see with any kind of telescope.

“There has been a great deal of speculation concerning alternative explanations for the anomalous orbits observed in the outer solar system,” explained Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate student, in a statement. “One of the ideas put forth was the possibility that Planet Nine could be a grapefruit-sized black hole with a mass of five to 10 times that of the Earth.”

So which is it then? In a new paper accepted into the The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Siraj, alongside a team of astronomers from Harvard University and the Black Hole Initiative outlined a newly developed method that could hopefully answer that question once and or all.

Their plan is to look for accretion flares given off as the tiny black hole gobbles up matter surrounding it. If they find some, it’d mean that Planet Nine is actually a black hole. “In the vicinity of a black hole, small bodies that approach it will melt as a result of heating from the background accretion of gas from the interstellar medium onto the black hole,” Siraj said.

“Because black holes are intrinsically dark, the radiation that matter emits on its way to the mouth of the black hole is our only way to illuminate this dark environment,” added Avi Loeb, professor of science at Harvard who was also involved in the research.

The team is placing their bets on the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) mission taking place at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. Astronomers involved in the mission are hoping to answer questions about the nature of dark energy and dark matter as well as the formation and properties of planets in our solar system.

“LSST has a wide field of view, covering the entire sky again and again, and searching for transient flares,” Loeb said. “Other telescopes are good at pointing at a known target, but we do not know exactly where to look for Planet Nine. We only know the broad region in which it may reside.”

According to Loeb, the LSST’s “unprecedented depth” will be able to spot even the smallest of flares.

It’s not the only attempt to uncover the mysteries behind Planet Nine. Most recently, a different team of astronomers announced it’s hoping to launch a fleet of thousands of “nanospacecraft” to search for the mysterious object.

Unfortunately, that vision is still a moonshot, with cost estimates breaking the $1 billion mark — that is, if it’s even feasible from a technological standpoint in the first place.

READ MORE: Scientists propose plan to determine if Planet Nine is a primordial black hole [Harvard]
More on Planet Nine: A Black Hole May Be Orbiting Our Sun. This Guy Wants to Find It.

If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Nasa black hole visualization

 

Hungry Hungry

new trippy visualization by NASA researchers shows how a black hole distorts its appearance by skewing the matter around it and warping the light itself with its immense gravity.

Gigantic black holes often appear at the center of large galaxies, where they pack an immense amount of matter into a tiny space. The resulting gravitational field eats up everything, including light.

Warp Zone

In the visualization, the yellow highlights are twisting magnetic fields as they’re making their way through churning gas. The inside gas nearest to the hole itself orbits the hole at almost the speed of light, according to a NASA statement.

The reason it has separate rings jutting out of the bottom is because of intense gravitational forces bending the light emitted by the disk, thereby providing a view of the disk’s underside.

Warping Space And Time

A team of scientists used NASA’s Event Horizon Telescope to snap the first-ever image of a black hole to the world back in April. Scientists are already working on getting an even crisper, higher resolution shot using two or three satellites.

READ MORE: New NASA Visualisation of a Black Hole Is So Beautiful We Could Cry [ScienceAlert]
More on black holes: Uh Oh: The Milky Way’s Giant Black Hole Is “Getting Hungrier”

Giant black hole is getting hungrier

 

Cosmic Burp


Black holes glow brighter when they’re taking in greater quantities of matter. That matter could have come from any combination of stars, asteroids, and cosmic gases that the scientists know passed near Sag A*. But the team doesn’t yet know whether an unusual amount of food happened to approach at once — or if something has changed within the Sag A* itself that’s making it hungrier than normal.

“The big question is whether the black hole is entering a new phase — for example if the spigot has been turned up and the rate of gas falling down the black hole ‘drain’ has increased for an extended period,” UCLA astronomer Mark Morris said in the press release, “or whether we have just seen the fireworks from a few unusual blobs of gas falling in.”

READ MORE: Black hole at the center of our galaxy appears to be getting hungrier [UCLA newsroom via Phys.org]
More on black holes: Physicists Detect Gravitational Waves From Newborn Black Hole

Black hole


scienceisbeauty | Δ S > 0

General relativistic visualization of a supercomputed magneto-hydrodynamic simulation of a disk and jet around a black hole.
Source: Inside Black Holes ( JILA Science – University of Colorado at Boulder – National Institute of Standards and Technology )