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The Outer Solar System

Art by J. Becker

In 2016, I began working in the Dark Energy Survey’s (DES) Solar System group. The group was using DES data to try and discover objects in the outer solar system, and I was interested in studying the high-inclination populations of Kuiper Belt objects. Right as we started working on this, the Planet Nine Hypothesis came onto the scientific scene. For the full story of Planet Nine, check out this recent review written by Konstantin, Fred, Mike, and myself.

Based on this hypothesis, I first used numerical simulations to study the dynamical stability of scattered disk objects in the presence of proposed solar system member Planet Nine. As part of this project, I identified a behavior I called resonance hopping, a mechanism by which Planet Nine stabilizes the orbits of these Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), trapping them into resonances for periods of time that range from a few tens of millions of years to the age of the solar system.

As we were wrapping this project up, we found a really cool object in the DES data: an extreme, long period, highly inclined TNOs in our solar system, 2015 BP519 (Becker et al. 2018a). This object is an important component of TNO analysis going forward due to its unique orbit and resultant implications on how the solar system formed. It has a high orbital inclination (54 degrees). Objects with long periods and inclinations this high are a key prediction of the Planet Nine Hypothesis.

With collaborator Tali Khain, we then examined the dynamical states of all the DES discoveries. Tali wrote a paper classifying all the objects detected by our survey – old and new! Looking forward, this more complete census will allow us to do a better job constraining the past formation and migration of bodies in the outer solar system.

    See other links related to this project:
  1. My paper studying the stability of TNOs in the Planet Nine Hypothesis, as well as discussing resonance hopping: Becker, Adams et al. (2017)
  2. The discovery of 2015 BP519, the highest inclination extreme TNO: Becker, Khain, Hamilton et al. (2018)
  3. A great popular science article in Quanta Magazine on 2015 B519: A New World’s Extraordinary Orbit Points to Planet Nine by Shannon Hall
  4. The discovery of two new distant TNOs using DES data: Khain, Becker, et al. (2018)
  5. The Planet Nine Review, summarizing the history of the search for extra planets in the solar system and the Planet Nine hypothesis specifically: Batygin, Adams, Brown & Becker (2019)
  6. See Tali’s paper on the classification of each of the DES KBOs: Khain, Becker, et al. (2020)