MURFREESBORO — Move over Pluto. Make way for what could be the newest — and ninth — planet.
“Another Ninth Planet?” will be the subject of associate professor Chuck Higgins’ talk as the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s First Friday Star Parties resume for the spring semester.
For the next three months, four star parties will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 5, March 4, April 1 and April 22 in Room 1006 of the Science Building, 440 Friendship St. For parking and building location, a searchable campus parking map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap.
The general public and campus community are invited to the free 45-minute lectures followed by telescope observing, weather permitting.
First Friday Star Parties are a way for the department to bring the MTSU, Murfreesboro and surrounding communities together to view and discuss the stars, planets and more.
Higgins said a published Jan. 16 paper by California Institute of Technology researchers Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. “Mike” Brown in The Astronomical Journal highlights evidence for a large planet-sized object (larger than 10 Earth masses) in the distant solar system.
“The evidence is based on numerical simulations to try to explain observed data that show an unexpected clustering of distant objects in the Kuiper Belt,” Higgins said.
“In more simple terms, astronomers have noticed that some small bodies well beyond Neptune have some strange orbits,” he added. “One possible explanation causing these strange orbits is gravitational influence from a large planet — at least 10 Earth masses — that is 700 astronomical units from the sun.” (Earth is 1 AU or approximately 93 million miles from the sun.)
Higgins will explain the disturbed orbits and highlight the evidence for this possible “ninth” planet.
Astronomers downgraded Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, leaving eight planets in the solar system.
The other scheduled First Friday Star Party dates, topics and presenters for the spring:
• March 4 — “Not So Dark Dark Matter” (Irina Perevalova).
• April 1 — “Symmetry, the Big Bang and You” (Rob Mahurin).
April 22* — “Buying and Using a Telescope” (John Wallin).
* — Alumni Weekend event