There is a growing consensus among astronomers that beyond the gas giants of the outer solar system lurks a mysterious object – perhaps a black hole – affecting the massive cloud of small, icy bodies in the Oort cloud.
And it turns out that some evidence suggests that this hypothesis might be correct. No one is sure how a planet massive enough to affect the cloud of icy remnants of the birth of the solar system could form at such a great distance from the sun. “We only know that there is an object of a certain mass out there,” said theorist Jakub Scholtz of the UK’s Durham University, in New Scientist report. “The observations we have cannot tell us what that object is.”
And Scholtz suspects it could be an ancient black hole forged during the primeval explosion – when the universe exploded into existence. But how can we know for sure, and what else could this show us about the universe?
The ninth planet could be an ancient black hole
The object – commonly called Planet Nine – remains a subject of intense scrutiny and disagreement among scientists for years, and should be between five and 15 times the mass of the earth. No one has seen it, but if it is an ancient black hole, it would probably be no bigger than a grapefruit, and would remain completely unnoticed for human observation unless we saw a distant object plunging to its doom into the tiny jaw of the event horizon.
The nearest confirmed black hole to Earth lies in a three-star system called HR 6819, about 1,000 light-years away. It is about four times larger than the sun – relatively light in the size of the universe. But it proves that tiny, primitive black holes abound throughout the universe, the closest of which could be a fast 10-year journey aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizons became popular in 2015 when it quickly flew from Pluto and its moon, Charon – providing scientists (and everyone else) with the first clear images of the previous ninth planet.
Scholtz and his colleague James Unwin wrote an article that described the hypothesis of a dark, overweight object, about four inches wide, crawling around the edge of our solar system. If small ancient black holes abound, they could help unravel other confusing mysteries of the universe, such as how galaxies have remained in one piece for billions of years. “Ancient black holes could be […] dark matter, “said Sebastien Clesse, a cosmologist at the University of Brussels in Belgium New Scientist.
A small fleet of surveys could return close-up images of a black hole
However, until someone makes a direct observation of an ancient black hole at the edge of our solar system, it’s not much more than speculation to say that we actually live closer to a black hole than we thought. But Slava Turyshev of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California wants to launch this script by launching a set of tiny spacecraft designed to glide there in solar sails and try to detect the overt gravity disturbance that even the smallest black holes would inevitably generate.
Turyshev’s small investigations could possibly make the trip to the region of Neptune’s orbit about “ten times faster” than a conventional chemical rocket, and reach its goal one year after launch – provided they receive a major energy boost by initial access from the sun. Nothing is in stone yet, but if it does happen, we may have a close-up photo of our neighborhood black hole before the first humans take the first step on the planet Mars.