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Planet Nine may be an exoplanet in our very own backyard, a new video shows us the amazing view as the Huygens probe descended to the surface of Titan, 12 years ago, and check out a view of Jupiter we will never see from here at home! It's What's Up in Space!
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Is Planet Nine a captured alien world in our own backyard?

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, January 13, 2017, 2:58 PM - Planet Nine may be an exoplanet in our very own backyard, a new video shows us the amazing view as the Huygens probe descended to the surface of Titan, 12 years ago, and check out a view of Jupiter we will never see from here at home! It's What's Up in Space!

"Alien" Planet Nine?

Just shy of a year ago, Catltech astronomers announced that they had solid evidence there was a large planet - possibly about ten times more massive than Earth - orbiting our Sun, far out beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.

Their research had revealed a growing number of icy dwarf planets out beyond the reaches of the outer solar system, all with highly elliptical orbits, and these orbits were all skewed to one side of the solar system. One of the best explanations for this, so far, is that there is a large planet with an orbit skewed towards the other side of the solar system, to balance them.

The orbits of six known dwarf planets, and the orbit of a theoretical ninth planet, which could explain their skewed orientation. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Well, now, a new study brings up the possibility that this distant planet may not have developed locally. Instead, it may be a "rogue planet" that was ejected from other star system, and was subsequently captured by the gravity of our Sun.

Play Super Planet Crash for any length of time and you will become very familiar with the concept of rogue planets. Essentially, as a planetary system forms and evolves, one or more of the planets that develop can wander too close to one another, get a little gravitational kick into an unstable orbit, and then go slingshotting around the star for a fast "eject" from the system. Once a planet exits a star system like this, it becomes a rogue. Some estimates for rogue planets in the Milky Way galaxy put their numbers in the billions.

According to this new study, presented at the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week by James Vesper and Paul Mason from New Mexico State University, based on simulations of rogue planet encounters with our solar system, the hypothetical Planet Nine may be one of these rogues.

Running 156 simulations, using rogue planets of varying sizes, Vesper and Mason found that about 40 per cent of the time, our Sun's gravity would latch on to the passing rogue and pull it into a stable orbit. The rest of the time, the planet would simply be ejected again, and larger rogues tended to disrupt the orbits of our home-grown planets, possibly kicking at least one of them out in the process.

A planet with the estimated size of Planet Nine, however, is apparently just right to be captured, without disrupting anything, and to settle into the projected orbit that the Caltech researchers figured out in their study.

We still have yet to find Planet Nine, of course. The search still continues and with the James Webb Space Telescope slated for a 2018 launch, Planet Nine may be one of its first discoveries.

Descent to a hydrocarbon moon

Nearly 12 years ago, on January 14, 2005, NASA's Cassini spacecraft dropped off the European Space Agency's Huygens probe at Titan.

Having travelled with Cassini since their launch in October 1997, Huygens was designed to plunge into Titan's thick atmosphere, descend by parachute, and possibly float around on the surface, if it happened to land in a hydrocarbon lake or ocean. Images of this descent and landing have been around for the past 12 years, but in celebration of the anniversary of this landing, NASA and the ESA have released an amazing new video that takes us on Huygens' journey.

Rather than presenting us with a simulated view, what you're seeing above is actual imagery taken by the Huygens probe on its 2.5 hour descent to the surface. Only the very ending of the video shows a simulated view of what Huygens looked like as it landed. 

"The Huygens descent and landing represented a major breakthrough in our exploration of Titan as well as the first soft landing on an outer-planet moon," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a NASA statement. "It completely changed our understanding of this haze-covered ocean world."

"The Huygens images were everything our images from orbit were not," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "Instead of hazy, sinuous features that we could only guess were streams and drainage channels, here was incontrovertible evidence that at some point in Titan's history -- and perhaps even now -- there were flowing liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. Huygens' images became a Rosetta stone for helping us interpret our subsequent findings on Titan."

Seeing this now, roughly 8 months out from the final end of the Cassini-Huygens mission, is somewhat bittersweet. It's amazing footage, and Cassini will continue to return incredible imagery until September, but it acts as an emphasis that we need to get another mission out to Saturn, as soon as is humanly possible!

I'm just going to leave this here...

This image of a crescent Jupiter and the iconic Great Red Spot was created by a citizen scientist (Roman Tkachenko) using data from Juno's JunoCam instrument. You can also see a series of storms shaped like white ovals, known informally as the ‘string of pearls.’ Below the Great Red Spot a reddish long-lived storm known as Oval BA is visible. The image was taken on Dec. 11, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. EST, as the Juno spacecraft performed its third close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 458,800 kilometers from the planet. Image and Caption Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Sources: Popular Science | Phys.org | NASA-ESA | NASA

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