An upcoming sky survey will help test a wild idea – that a black hole the size of a grapefruit lurks undetected in the outer solar system.
In recent years, researchers have found a strange cluster in the orbits of several transneptunical objects (TNOs) that are located in the dark depths of the outermost solar system. Some scientists have hypothesized that the pathways of TNOs were shaped by the attraction of a large object that is five to ten times as massive as Earth (although others believe that TNOs may only be pulling together).
This big “jammer”, if any, can be a planet ̵
Connected: The proof for ‘Planet Nine’ in our solar system (gallery)
Astronomers are already looking for signs of Planet Nine in the sky and should soon be able to look for the alleged black hole, a new study reports.
The highly anticipated Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a large telescope under construction in the Chilean Andes, is scheduled to begin in late 2022 with a comprehensive, ten-year survey of the southern sky, known as the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST ) referred to as .
The Ruby Observatory will be incredibly sensitive and will repeatedly scan large swathes of sky, a combination that, according to scientists, provides an unprecedented wealth of data. Using LSST data, astronomers can, for example, investigate the nature of mysterious dark energy and dark matter, find and track a large number of potentially dangerous asteroids, and, among other things, examine the formation and evolution of our Milky Way galaxy.
The LSST observation program will also be able to detect a potential black hole signature, the new study reports – “accretion flares” that arise when black holes devour comets or other small objects.
“Near a black hole, small bodies that approach it melt as gas from the interstellar medium heats up to the black hole in the background,” said Amir Siraj, a student of astronomy at Harvard University, said in a statement. “As soon as they melt, the small bodies are exposed to a tidal disturbance through the black hole, followed by accretion of the tidal body onto the black hole.”
Such accretion causes radiation emission, lightning bolts that briefly shed light on dark and mysterious objects.
“Because black holes are inherently dark, the radiation that matter emits on their way to the black hole’s mouth is our only way to illuminate this dark environment,” said co-author Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s Astronomy Department Statement.
According to the new study, which was accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, LSST data should be able to confirm or exclude the planet-nine-is-a-black-hole hypothesis within one year of the start of the survey . (You can read a preprint of it for free on arXiv.org.)
And whatever LSST reveals will be of great interest to astronomers.
“The edge of the solar system is our backyard. Finding Planet Nine is like discovering a cousin who lives in the shed behind your house and you never knew about,” said Loeb. “It immediately raises questions: Why is it there? How did it get its properties? Did it shape the history of the solar system? Are there more of them?”
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about finding a new life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.