It’s been a while now since astronomers began openly discussing the possibility of a ninth planet in our solar system — and no, it’s not Pluto. Now, thanks to a new citizen science effort to detect and identify a mysterious, previously unknown world lurking near the edge of our celestial neighborhood, researchers actually have a handful of possible candidates.
Using data from the SkyMapper telescope at the Australian National University, nearly 21,000 citizen volunteers browsed an astounding 100,000 images of the region of the solar system where the mythical Planet Nine is thought to exist. The group labeled over five million objects, and rapidly completed the classifications in just a few days, instead of the years upon years that it would have taken a single astronomer to perform the same task.
After all their work was done they were left with four different objects that, out of the immense wealth of data, could finally be evidence of the elusive Planet Nine. Professional astronomers will now examine the information and photographs related to those four objects in the hopes of either confirming the existence of a large world or possibly dwarf planets or other objects.
Many theories about what Planet Nine is — if it indeed exists — and where it came from are many. Some even believe that it could be a “rogue planet” which was floating freely in space long after the formation of our solar system and was drawn in by our sun’s gravitational pull. Of course, before we settle on its origin story, we should probably confirm it’s even there in the first place.