Proof of Planet Nine in Medieval Manuscripts: An Astronomer and a Historian Team Up to Find the Truth in 1,000-Year-Old Data

Friday, 04 May 2018 - 11:21AM
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Friday, 04 May 2018 - 11:21AM
Proof of Planet Nine in Medieval Manuscripts: An Astronomer and a Historian Team Up to Find the Truth in 1,000-Year-Old Data
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We can only imagine how often hard science majors have scoffed at people like Marilina Cesario, who got her degree in medieval history. While the scientific community is busy mapping the Milky Way and building plans to colonize Mars, what are medieval historians even doing with their time?

Helping prove the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system, that's what. Cesario is working with astronomer Pedro Lacerda to comb through medieval records of comet sightings to see if they can provide some insight into the elusive, massive planet that may be lurking just beyond Neptune.

At this point, you may (rightly) be asking how comet sightings on Earth could prove the existence of a planet millions of miles away. The answer is: gravity. Right now, there are a whole bunch of strange but subtle anomalies in the Kuiper Belt, a ring of asteroids and ice chunks outside the solar system. Many of the larger chunks of rock and ice are called Trans-Neptunian Objects, and appear to be affected by the gravity of a something larger moving around in the Belt – potentially, a planet about ten times the size of Earth. Astronomers know that a planet's gravity can alter the orbit of comets and, since most comets follow predictable paths through the solar system, tracking changes in when and where they appear can create a model of the forces acting on them.

This is where the medieval records come in. According to Cesario: "We have a wealth of historical records of comets in Old English, Old Irish, Latin and Russian which have been overlooked for a long time. Early medieval people were fascinated by the heavens, as much as we are today." Those meticulous records kept by medieval skywatchers will help build the case for Planet Nine's existence (or non-existence), says Lacerda. "We can take the orbits of comets currently known and use a computer to calculate the times when those comets would be visible in the skies during the Middle Ages. The precise times depend on whether our computer simulations include Planet Nine. So, in simple terms, we can use the medieval comet sightings to check which computer simulations work best: the ones that include Planet Nine or the ones that do not."

Whether or not we find Planet Nine in the Kuiper Belt, we know what we won't find: the fictional doomsday planet called Nibiru, which was supposed to end the world last month.

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