With each new space discovery, we realize how much we still don’t know about the solar system. Astronomers recently detected a mysterious object near Neptune that doesn’t move through space as expected. The trans-Neptunian object (TNO) actually moves backwards around the sun, and it has scientists scratching their heads.
Using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System 1 Survey (Pan-STARRS 1) in Hawaii, a team of astronomers discovered the mysterious object. They nicknamed the TNO “Niku,” a Chinese word for ‘rebellious.’ Niku’s odd movement is so weird because angular momentum generally dictates that objects in a planetary system move in the same direction. Astronomer Michele Bannister of Queens University, Belfast told New Scientist, “Angular momentum forces everything to have that one spin direction all the same way. It’s the same thing with a spinning top, every particle is spinning the same direction.”
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Except, of course, for Niku. Since the TNO is moving backwards, and also upwards, the astronomers think it must have been “knocked off course.” But we don’t yet know what exactly bumped the TNO. At first the astronomers thought Niku’s abnormal movement could be related to Planet Nine, another baffling object even further away than Neptune. But they’ve tossed that theory out for now, as Niku is “too close to the solar system” to really be influenced by Planet Nine.
Matthew Holman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, “It suggests that there’s more going on in the outer solar system than we’re fully aware of.”
Bannister tweeted, “I hope everyone has buckled their seatbelts because the outer solar system just got a lot weirder.”
A group of astronomers including Holman and 16 other scientists from institutions in Taiwan, Hawaii, the UK and Germany submitted a paper earlier this month detailing the find, and it has been accepted for publication in the journal ApJ Letters.
Via New Scientist
Images via Wikimedia Commons and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr