“There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It’s a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that’s still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting.” -Mike Brown, on the possibility of Planet Nine

When most people think of the Kuiper belt, they think of a population of objects just beyond Neptune, with slightly larger, more elliptical and more inclined orbits. As new discoveries like the recent 2015 RR245 show, however, there are a great many additional objects in the scattered disk with different orbital parameters that are much harder to find.

Distribution of Scattered Disk objects, with the latest object, 2015 RR245, added in by hand. Note that it is disputable whether this is a classical KBO or a scattered disk object. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Eurocommuter under a c.c.a.-s.a.-3.0 license.

Distribution of Scattered Disk objects, with the latest object, 2015 RR245, added in by hand. Note that it is disputable whether this is a classical KBO or a scattered disk object. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Eurocommuter under a c.c.a.-s.a.-3.0 license.

These objects are quite likely to exist in great numbers, and are very difficult to find with current technology. Our observational biases may have strong and profound implications for our Solar System, including for the potential existence or non-existence of the hypothetical Planet Nine.

The orbits of the known Sednoids, along with the proposed Planet Nine. Image credit: K. Batygin and M. E. Brown Astronom. J. 151, 22 (2016), with modifications/additions by E. Siegel.

The orbits of the known Sednoids, along with the proposed Planet Nine. Image credit: K. Batygin and M. E. Brown Astronom. J. 151, 22 (2016), with modifications/additions by E. Siegel.

There’s a whole lot more we still need to find out before any firm conclusions are drawn.

Comments

  1. #1 Denier
    United States
    July 12, 2016

    This rock was discovered by the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS) project using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and it brings up a question I’ve been curious about:

    How is the telescope time paid for?

    Do you apply for time on the telescope and are granted use with the grant covering the operating costs of the facility? Or is the telescope a profit center with projects seeking time on the instruments needing to raise the funds to pay the owner of the telescope? If it is the latter then does that mean the construction costs of the telescope are recovered at some point?

    If there are 2 projects with one being deemed of greater scientific value while the other is better funded, who would get the majority of the time on the sought after telescope?

    How does the business end of existing telescopes and similar expensive apparatus such as particle accelerators work?

  2. #2 Narad
    July 12, 2016

    The output of the CFHT’s Time Allocation Committee (or however it’s styled) looks like this. The costs are paid for by the organizations that own and operate the telescopes.

    I imagine there’s room for overlap in funding channels, though; I hit submit but forgot to enter my E-mail address, and in the meantime, the HST Key Projects sprang to mind.* Turns out there’s a pretty quick read from the Second Decade Committee that gives the flavor of things here: “http://www.stsci.edu/institute/stuc/commitee-reports/htp2.pdf

    * “Dawn breaks over Marblehead.”

  3. #3 Narad
    July 12, 2016

    ^ Finally, a system in which one applies for grants that would putatively pay for telescope time without knowing whether that time would be allocated in the first place doesn’t seem tenable.

  4. #4 Narad
    July 12, 2016

    ^^ Hah! I’m happy to report that somebody has finally cleaned up the official SDSS acknowledgment to eliminate the “Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy” absurdity and its MPG friends. Offhand, JHU and OSU still get their vanity capitalization, CfA needs a definite article, and “Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration including” is anybody’s guess (I think somebody tried to shorten the old version, but I shoudn’t be dithering around like this in the first place).

  5. #5 Ragtag Media
    United States
    July 12, 2016

    Denier has a valid question,” How is the telescope time paid for?”
    I spent a few minutes and there does seem to be some missing “financial”
    Not saying something is rotten in Denmark (or .Atacama Desert, Chile).
    But Deniers point should be taken into consideration.

  6. #6 eric
    July 12, 2016

    Don’t know about telescopes, but with accelerators it’s typically “we play both types of music here.” I.e., they dedicate some time for clients who will pay a per hour cost, and they dedicate some time for research proposals that don’t directly pay for it. For the latter, operational costs come out of the funding agency’s budget (example :Department of Energy). Thus getting your beamtime proposal accepted can be “worth” a good chunk of money, even though no money changes hands.

    Even if you’re willing to pay though, it’s not a ‘highest bidder’ situation. The facility sets the cost, and if they get more requests than they have time, the facility will use a review committee to make a decision based on quality of proposal just as they will for the research groups that don’t directly pay for time.

    There are other complications with accelerators (such as dedicated beamlines), but I don’t think they have a good analogy with telescopes so I’ve glossed over them.

  7. #7 Ragtag Media
    United States
    July 12, 2016

    “it’s not a ‘highest bidder’ situation. The facility sets the cost, and if they get more requests than they have time, the facility will use a review committee to make a decision based on quality of proposal just as they will for the research groups that don’t directly pay for time.”

    My only question is Do black Holes lives matter more than White Dwarfs?

  8. #8 See Noevo
    July 13, 2016

    Fussing about such pragmatic and financial matters is so maddeningly minor
    when major issues are at stake, like
    new dwarf planet beyond Pluto hints at no Planet Nine.

  9. #9 Dean
    July 13, 2016

    Given the miniscule cost for this it is stupid to worry about it.

  10. #10 Denier
    July 13, 2016

    @See Noevo #8

    All the hand waving about Planet Nine was ridiculous from the outset. It was little better than the discovery of the face and pyramids on Mars.

    I’ll admit that 2015 RR245 is a neat find, but that its existence casts some doubt on the announced pre-discovery of the Nibiru cataclysm doesn’t hold my interest. If there really is a planet nine then tell me when it is actually discovered.

  11. #11 Narad
    July 13, 2016

    Jesus, that was a really desperate attempt at trolling from S.N. Who’s “fussing”? It’s a nontrivial question. WTF was S.N.’s “next move” supposed to be?

    Mind you, this is the person who thinks that astronomical research should have ceased and desisted after – I sh*t you not – “OLD cosmology,” which “at least had practical benefits for navigation and tide and temperature predictions.”

    Because screw “the barycenter” and gimme my GPS.

  12. #12 See Noevo
    July 13, 2016

    To Denier #1:

    Here’s an example of some scientists who came up with the scratch, or whatever, to get a glimpse through multiple (and multinational) telescopes:
    “The Lancaster team used the Subaru and Keck telescopes on Hawaii, and the Very Large Telescope in Chile…”
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160705092238.htm

    But one question I have is about “evolution”, as in
    “Astronomers have shed further light on the *evolution* of the early Universe with the discovery of a “team” of super bright galaxies…”

    “Evolution” does NOT mean just “change”,
    but rather something like *major*, “transformational* change.
    I don’t quite see how any cosmological evolution has occurred for the last 13 billion years, because I’ve read elsewhere that stars and even galaxies formed within the first couple hundred million years of the Big Bang.

    Did real “evolution” end well over 13 billion years ago?

  13. #13 Narad
    July 13, 2016

    I find the colossal Fail Pudding that has just emerged from S.N. – almost as though it were lovingly hand-stuffed into its natural, somewhat chewy casing and shaped by the most delicate charcutier – simply by virtue of casual ridicule to have made it all worthwhile.

  14. #14 eric
    July 14, 2016

    Here’s an example of some scientists who came up with the scratch, or whatever, to get a glimpse through multiple (and multinational) telescopes

    Your question is easily answered by googling “applying for time on the Keck telescope.” Which you could’ve done yourself. It appears the O&M costs for the telescope are paid for by a consortium of academic and research organizations; individual researchers don’t come up with any ‘scratch,’ they apply for time through one of those organizations.

    Now my guess is that your broader argument is that we shouldn’t be giving any money to NASA or U. California to do astronomy when we have a budget deficit (or some other priority)? Ignoring the fact that several of the organizations in the consortium are private (Caltech, Yale), I find it amazing that you can wonder why you’re being considered for a ban when your contribution consists of coming to an astronomer’s website ,where he talks about astronomy, and ham-handedly implying that astronomy is a waste of money.

    “Evolution” does NOT mean just “change”,
    but rather something like *major*, “transformational* change.

    SN, “evolution” is a word with several different meanings. Like the words “jerk” and “obtuse.”

  15. #15 Dean
    July 14, 2016

    Eric, remember that sn is on record as saying that nobody should spend time or money on research unless there is an immediate application. He’s never said what would qualify, but it is fair to say “learnng” is not a thing he would value.

  16. #16 Wow
    July 14, 2016

    “How is the telescope time paid for?”

    With money and effort and agreement, much like every other shared resource reasonable humans work with.

    Money doesn’t have to change hands.

    If you apply to the comittee for time on it and have a good enough case, you will get time on it.

    Hell, there’s a crowdfund type access to the HST via web page, the location of which escapes me at the moment. You can apply.

  17. #17 Wow
    July 14, 2016

    “Jesus, that was a really desperate attempt at trolling from S.N. Who’s “fussing”?”

    See Nowt.

    Sound and fury signifying nothing.

  18. #18 Wow
    July 14, 2016

    ” “Evolution” does NOT mean just “change”,
    but rather something like *major*, “transformational* change.”

    When they bring in a brand new major transformation change of a previous product (like, for example, a vacuum cleaner), it’s called “a revolution”, not “an evolution” when advertised. An evolution is less of a change in the adverts.

    So quite how see nowt sees evolution as “major transformational change” (well, actually, I do: the piffle about macro and micro evolution in stripey trousers).

    But if see nowt is so hot on actual meanings, what’s “Kind”?

    Where is it in dogs that makes it “dog kind” and why doesn’t it change? How do you know that? How do you find what “Cat kind” is, and all the other kinds that cannot and never have changed or evolved because that would be “macro evolution” and disallowed?

  19. #19 eric
    July 14, 2016

    Eric, remember that sn is on record as saying that nobody should spend time or money on research unless there is an immediate application

    Yeah, I know. But IMO ‘being on record’ as disagreeing with your host is one thing. Bringing it up specifically in this situation is quite another. Its basically poking the bear.

  20. #20 Denier
    United States
    July 14, 2016

    @eric #14

    Your question is easily answered by googling “applying for time on the Keck telescope.” Which you could’ve done yourself. It appears the O&M costs for the telescope are paid for by a consortium of academic and research organizations; individual researchers don’t come up with any ‘scratch,’ they apply for time through one of those organizations.

    I did google the answer prior to posing the question precisely because I got conflicting answers. Speaking specifically of Keck, it seems you found a page that says individuals don’t pay, but did you also see the page where they break down the cost of a night’s use of Keck?

    http://ast.noao.edu/system/tsip/more-info/time-calc-keck

    With an annual cost of $30.8 million and 574 nights available for observing, the cost of one observing night on a Keck telescope is $53.7 thousand dollars.

    The conflicting information was why I asked, and I had no greater agenda. I simply wanted to know how hard it was to put together something like the OSSOS project.

  21. #21 See Noevo
    July 14, 2016

    To eric #14:

    Me: ““Evolution” does NOT mean just “change”, but rather something like *major*, “transformational* change.”

    You: “SN, “evolution” is a word with several different meanings. Like the words “jerk” and “obtuse.””

    For the impromptu definition of “evolution” I could have added “which is never observed (i.e. not empirical) and which is problematic even in theory.”

    There.
    That fits cosmological, as well as biological, “evolution”.

  22. #22 See Noevo
    July 14, 2016

    To eric #19:

    ““Eric, remember that sn is on record as saying that nobody should spend time or money on research unless there is an immediate application”

    Yeah, I know.”

    You know, eric?
    Then, maybe you can help me out, because I do NOT know where I ever said nobody should spend time or money on research unless there is an immediate application.

    Would you please provide the link?
    Otherwise, I’d have to believe you’re deliberately posting falsehoods about me.

  23. #23 dean
    United States
    July 14, 2016

    you said it several months ago on this blog sn. You’ve lied and denied it multiple times.

  24. #24 Narad
    July 14, 2016

    you said it several months ago on this blog sn.

    Hell, one example is staring him in the face with the link above:

    “Nobody advocates, or should advocate, spending untold man-years and billions of dollars just to learn more about something that has no impact on our daily lives.”

  25. #25 dean
    United States
    July 14, 2016

    countdown to sn saying his comment doesn’t say what it says in 3, 2, 1…

  26. #26 Narad
    July 14, 2016

    @eric #14

    I’m getting a certain vibe off of your response that you were under the impression that Eric’s comment was aimed at you rather than S.N. and his extremely tedious habit of just barfing up some random search result, more often than not garnished with added full caps.

  27. #27 Narad
    July 14, 2016

    “Evolution” does NOT mean just “change”,
    but rather something like *major*, “transformational* change.

    Oh, G-d, S.N. tries to portray Henry Fowler in community theater, with predictable consequences.

  28. #28 eric
    July 14, 2016

    SN:

    For the impromptu definition of “evolution” I could have added “which is never observed (i.e. not empirical) and which is problematic even in theory.”

    Sure Humpty, you could have. Because nothing says adult conversation like veiling your opinion (…poorly…) using a faked-up definition of a word. It was biting and smart social commentary when Ambrose Bierce did it in the 1800s. You, however, are no Bierce.

    I do NOT know where I ever said nobody should spend time or money on research unless there is an immediate application.

    Okay, so what was the point of post #8? What message are you trying to communicate? Because it seems pretty obvious your point was that this research should not have been funded.

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