TECH
03/02/2015 10:24 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT

'Planet X' Could Be Real After All - And The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Will Let Us See It

A surprising number of people still believe that a ridiculously massive, dark planet is sweeping around our solar system.

This theoretical presence is usually known as Planet X, and has been blamed for everything from strange wobbles in the orbit of Uranus, which formed the basis of the original search, to a vague, hypothetical world-ending cataclysm.

Apocalypse aside, the trouble with Planet X is roughly two-fold.

The first problem is that what we actually call a planet is vague, and increasingly arbitrary. Pluto is not a planet. None of the other trans-Neptunian objects are either, despite being fairly sizable worlds in their own right. Ceres is a dwarf planet, but other large objects are merely asteroids. It's complicated.

The second problem is that Planet X, as far as we can tell, doesn’t exist - not according to a recent infrared survey of the sky by NASA, anyway, or any of the people who have spent time trying to find it.

Still, the search goes on - and now a new telescope set to go online in 2022 could help us find out if Planet X is there once and for all.

dark planet

NPR has a new report on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a new instrument to be built in Chile, which should be able to search for cooler, large objects at the edges of the Solar System. NPR reports that researchers like Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, think there is still a good chance that a planet as large as Earth could be found in the dark space far beyond Pluto.

"I think, like all new discoveries, this is just the tip of the iceberg," Trujillo told NPR.

"And it will probably be quite a while until someone can explain things and most people accept their explanation."

Whether or not such a planet is discovered, what is certain is that we’ll know a lot more about our home at the end of the Milky Way’s western spiral arm. And in the meantime, our list of Earth-sized worlds even farther afield continues to grow.

The LSST is a large-aperture, wide-field telescope attached to a 3,200 megapixel camera. The aim is for the instrument to be able to rapidly chart moving objects in the sky of all kinds - from supernovas to asteroids and, maybe, giant planets 30 times farther from the Sun than the Earth.

The team behind it are confident it will be a game-changer:

“From its mountaintop site in Chile, the LSST will image the entire visible sky every few nights, thus capturing changes and opening up the time-domain window to the observable universe. Ultimately, in 10 years of observing, the goal is to record the greatest movie ever made.

“The LSST data will reveal The New Sky to scientists and the public with manifold implications for science. Billions of objects in our universe will be seen for the first time and monitored over time. Outstanding mysteries in astronomy and physics will be uniquely addressed. With a thousand-fold increase in capability over current facilities, LSST is likely to make unexpected discoveries.”

Meanwhile, Metro reports on the theory that the Vatican has already sent ships to Planet X filled with Jesuit priests. So that’s an alternative line of inquiry in case the whole ‘looking for it in space’ thing doesn’t work out.