Space and astronomy in general are full of mysteries, and there are a lot of things floating through our solar system that we don’t yet understand. But Niku, a newly-discovered object orbiting Neptune could be one of the strangest discoveries yet.
What it’s made of isn’t all that odd. It’s a chunk of ice that measures about 200 km across, which means that it’s on the lower end of similar objects that could be considered a dwarf planet. There are several objects that are a similar size and composition within the Kuiper Belt and past it.
What makes Niku different is that it is way above the ecliptic, which is the plane of the solar system that most planets fall on anchored by the Earth at the 0 degree mark on the ecliptic. Niku happens to be about 110 degrees above it, which means that it’s basically in a retrograde orbit.
Mercury clocks in at 7 degrees above the ecliptic, which makes it the most inclined of all the planets. Pluto and Eris, which are both dwarf planets, are at 17 and 44 degrees above the ecliptic, respectively, and most dwarf planets are similarly situated. A lot of smaller objects in the solar system can have inclined orbits, too, like asteroids and comets, but Niku is definitely the largest one to date.
Astronomers are now set on figuring out how it got to where it is, and a recent report explores a bunch of possibilities. Since it isn’t far out enough in space to be in the family of Sedna objects, there isn’t a strong enough argument to consider it a ninth planet in our solar system. There are also a lot of other objects that are smaller than Niku and in a similar orbit, so there has to be something that pulled them all out to where they are now.
Whatever that force might be, it isn’t proving easy to be figured out. Niku was apparently detected by the Pan-STARRS 1 survey, but what it is exactly still isn’t clear. It’s simply being called an “unknown mechanism” right now, and solving this mystery will likely involve discovering more objects like Niku.
Article source: astronomy.com
Featured image source: news.com.au