Austin science students excited about 'Planet 9'

At the Harmony Science Academy in North Austin, stacks of science projects are about to be put on display Thursday for the big Harmony Public Schools science fair.

This isn't your classic "erupting volcano" science project either, most of this work required some intense research by middle school and high school students.

Science teacher David Ohrt, whose dad worked for NASA, says space is by far the most interesting topic to his students.
On Wednesday, they wanted to talk about Planet 9.

"We had a little discussion, they were asking about it.  We talked a little bit about the planets and I said 'Hey if it's confirmed you guys are going to have to memorize a new ninth planet," Ohrt said.

Which would most likely be fine with them.  When Pluto was declassified as a planet, leaving only 8...that was a little disappointing to some.

But now researchers at Caltech think a ninth planet is out there -- and it's 5,000 times bigger than Pluto.

"The object itself is likely is more massive than the Earth probably a little bit less massive than Neptune," said Konstantin Batygin, Caltech researcher.

Planet 9, if it really exists, is billions of miles away and would take 20,000 years to orbit the sun compared to the 1 here on Earth.

If it's true, Ohrt is hoping it will shed some light on the origins of our universe.

"It actually kind of makes us look more normal as far as solar systems go.  If you compare our solar system to others in our galaxy, there's a couple of differences.  A lot of the other galaxies have these outer planets so it's kind of cool to find one or have evidence of one," Ohrt said.

Ohrt says discoveries like this go hand in hand with the school's science fair -- inspiring kids at an early age to ask questions and then learn how to answer the questions.

"I'm sure if you would have said to somebody 'Hey there are 8 planets and that's all there is and that's all you have to know for the rest of your life' and nobody thought 'Hey there's something else out there, maybe something cool,'" Ohrt said.

"History shows us that it's a bad idea to consistently say we have now reached the end of the solar system and there's nothing beyond what we already know," Batygin.

The Caltech researchers believe there is probably a telescope on Earth that is powerful enough to spot "Planet 9" -- they hope someone will find it in the next 5 years.

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