The Goblin and the ninth rock

Chennai: The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 star system exoplanets in 2017 was heralded as a massive discovery in astronomy. That these exoplanets that can support life exist and may someday be potentially be colonised for human inhabitation is of great interest to astronomers and people who believe that the Earth may have had enough of humans. Depleting natural resources and unsustainable energy practices may lead earth to one day become uninhabitable for human beings. In such a situation, the Earth will probably hit reset on life and continue without humanity.

To prevent this, some are of the mind that colonising the solar system and travelling to exoplanets is the only feasible solution. While interplanetary travel for humans has not been developed, flights of fancy are a common thing for human beings to embark on. The 2017 discovery is as useful as an abstract mathematical concept. It may come in handy at some point but there is no consensus on when that might be. The discovery of a tiny dwarf planet in the outer reaches of the solar system may be more useful in an immediate sense.

Nicknamed ‘The Goblin,’ the dwarf planet is a distant planet on the very fringes of our solar system with an incredibly large orbit. Astronomers stumbled upon the dwarf planet while looking for a hypothetical planet named Planet Nine that is suspected to be in orbit far beyond pluto. The planet is thought to be in a region known as the Oort cloud -a region of icy debris that surrounds our solar system.

Discoveries like The Goblin, Sedna , and an object called 2012 VP113, and the fact that their orbits are are clustered together hint at the existence of Planet Nine.

In an interview with The Guardian, Konstantin Batygin, assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech, called the newest finding a “great discovery indeed”.

“Despite centuries of surveys, our understanding of the solar system remains incomplete,” he said. “This certainly adds to the growing ledger of … objects that show Planet Nine’s influence.”

To be able to understand what is at the fringes of our solar system is key to facilitating travel to anywhere outside of  the system. The search for Planet Nine and the surveying of the Oort cloud is an exercise in cartography more so than anything else.

“We are only just now uncovering what the very outer solar system might look like and what might be out there,” said Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC and a member of the team. “We believe there are thousands of dwarf planets in the distant solar system. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.”