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Following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, there was considerable speculation that another planet might exist beyond its orbit. The search began in the mid-19th century and culminated at the start of the 20th with Percival Lowell's quest for Planet X. Lowell proposed the Planet X hypothesis to explain apparent discrepancies in the orbits of the giant planets, particularly Uranus and Neptune, speculating that the gravity of a large unseen ninth planet could have perturbed Uranus enough to account for the irregularities.

Planet Nine Edit

In 1894, with the help of William Pickering, Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian, founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1906, convinced he could resolve the conundrum of Uranus's orbit, he began an extensive project to search for a trans-Neptunian planet, which he named Planet X, a name previously used by Gabriel Dallet. The X in the name represents an unknown and is pronounced as the letter, as opposed to the Roman numeral for 10 (at the time, Planet X would have been the ninth planet). Lowell's hope in tracking down Planet X was to establish his scientific credibility, which had eluded him due to his widely derided belief that channel-like features visible on the surface of Mars were canals constructed by an intelligent civilization. Lowell's first search focused on the ecliptic, the plane encompassed by the zodiac where the other planets in the Solar System lie. Using a 5-inch photographic camera, he manually examined over 200 three-hour exposures with a magnifying glass, and found no planets. At that time Pluto was too far above the ecliptic to be imaged by the survey. After revising his predicted possible locations, Lowell conducted a second search from 1914 to 1916. In 1915, he published his Memoir of a Trans-Neptunian Planet, in which he concluded that Planet X had a mass roughly seven times that of Earth—about half that of Neptune—and a mean distance from the Sun of 43 AU. He assumed Planet X would be a large, low-density object with a high albedo, like the giant planets. As a result, it would show a disc with diameter of about one arcsecond and an apparent magnitude of between 12 and 13—bright enough to be spotted.

Separately, in 1908, Pickering announced that, by analysing irregularities in Uranus's orbit, he had found evidence for a ninth planet. His hypothetical planet, which he termed "Planet O" (because it came after "N", i.e. Neptune), possessed a mean orbital radius of 51.9 AU and an orbital period of 373.5 years. Plates taken at his observatory in Arequipa, Peru, showed no evidence for the predicted planet, and British astronomer P. H. Cowell showed that the irregularities observed in Uranus's orbit virtually disappeared once the planet's displacement of longitude was taken into account. Lowell himself, despite his close association with Pickering, dismissed Planet O out of hand, saying, "This planet is very properly designated "O", [for it] is nothing at all." Unbeknownst to Pickering, four of the photographic plates taken in the search for "Planet O" by astronomers at the Mount Wilson Observatory in 1919 captured images of Pluto, though this was only recognised years later. Pickering went on to suggest many other possible trans-Neptunian planets up to the year 1932, which he named P, Q, R, S, T and U; none were ever detected.

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