The modern solar system may seem boring to some, especially when it comes in the form of a sixth-grade science fair project.
But to astronomers, it’s actually a kind of crime scene, the aftermath of events that took place 4.6 billion years ago when planets moved around violently.
And the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy debris that lies beyond the orbit of Neptune, is like a blood-spattered wall. Scientists are studying it for clues as to what our early solar system may have looked like.
Recently, they found what may be a new piece of evidence. An international group of astronomers has discovered an object within the Kuiper Belt that’s orbiting wildly out of sync with the rest of the solar system.
Very little is known about the object, which was dubbed Niku, the Chinese word for “rebellious.”
But Konstantin Batygin, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, says its asynchronous orbit opens the door to theories about the early movements of planetary bodies, and perhaps even new worlds, that could be just out of sight.