Mike Brown and Planet Nine


Pluto
By NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Have scientists discovered a new planet? Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland tell about the possibility of a new planet. Scientists have not seen it yet, but they believe it is there.

Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

Look up at the night sky. If you are in a very dark area, you will see billions of stars. You can look through a telescope to make objects in the sky look bigger and closer. Then you will also see planets that orbit our sun. In all, there are eight of them. The planets Mercury and Venus are closer to the sun than our planet Earth. But Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are further away from the sun than the Earth.

Voice 2  

But some people think that there are more than eight planets orbiting the sun. Pluto also orbits the sun. It orbits at an even greater distance than Neptune. For many years, people called Pluto a planet. However, about ten years ago scientists decided that was not correct - Pluto was not a real planet. But now some people think that they have found another real planet - Planet Nine.

Voice 1  

Dr Mike Brown is a scientist at the California Institute of Technology. He is an astronomer who observes the planets in our solar system. Today’s Spotlight is on Dr Mike Brown and his work on Pluto and Planet Nine.

Voice 2  

Astronomers discovered Pluto in 1930. They had very little information about it. But they called it the ninth planet. During the next 60 years the telescopes and technology used by astronomers improved. Astronomers could see more and more in the sky. By the 1990s astronomers started to see other objects in the same area as Pluto. The astronomers called this area the Kuiper Belt. There were many Kuiper Belt Objects. And some were similar to Pluto. Some scientists began to ask a very important question. Were these objects planets like Pluto? Or was Pluto not a planet?

Voice 1 

Then in 2005 Dr Mike Brown made an important discovery. He saw a bright object in a computer picture from a telescope. He had found a large object in the Kuiper Belt. Scientists later called it Eris. Brown saw that Eris had a larger mass than Pluto. Immediately he knew that Eris would cause trouble for planet Pluto. He told the Washington Post,

Voice 3  

‘I did a quick estimate to see how big this object was. We did not know exactly how big it was at the time. But it was clearly the size of Pluto or much bigger. Either this was going to be a new planet, or Pluto was in trouble.’

Voice 2  

Brown was right. Some people may ask why calling Pluto a planet or not even matters. But defining something correctly helps people understand it better. So, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union decided that the word ‘planet’ should have a new definition. They said that a true planet must also clear the area around its orbit. But Pluto shares its orbit with other Kuiper Belt Objects. So Pluto - and Eris - were not true planets.

Voice 1  

Some scientists did not agree with this decision. Other people just did not like losing Pluto as a true planet. Some of them blamed Brown. And he even received some unpleasant letters and telephone calls about Pluto. These people felt both anger and sadness that Pluto was not a planet. Brown also gained a new name – ‘Pluto Killer’.

Voice 2  

Brown’s daughter, Lilah, was also sad that Pluto was not a planet. Later she told him that she would forgive him if he found a new planet. Brown remembers that she said to him,

Voice 4  

‘Daddy, what you need to do is go find a new planet so that people will no longer be sad about Pluto.’

Voice 1  

Then in 2016 Brown and his co-worker, Konstantin Batygin, surprised everyone. They announced that they had good evidence for another planet. They had used computer modeling to find the planet. The new planet was on the far outer edge of the solar system. They called it “Planet nine”. They had not seen the planet directly. But they had observed its effect on other objects in the Kuiper Belt. These objects were affected by the pull of gravity of a much larger object. Brown told the BBC,

Voice 3  

‘So we have not seen it yet. But I would say that we have felt it. Or, we can see its gravitational affect on the outer part of the solar system. That is really the sign. We see that it is pushing around these very very far away objects.’

Voice 2 

Brown and Batygin believe that Planet Nine is a big gas planet far away. It takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the sun. It is ten times larger than Earth.

Voice 1  

Brown and Batygin know that other scientists must see Planet Nine before they can accept it as a real planet. So they want other people to look for it too. Brown accepts that he may not be the person who finds the planet. He says that he wants a worldwide search for this ninth planet. He told the Washington Post,

Voice 3 

‘In the end discovery means it has been seen. We think we know the orbit. But we do not know where on the orbit that planet is. And we have not seen it yet. This document we published is like giving everyone a treasure map. It is going to depend on the luck of the person who points the telescope in the right place first. It is going to take a lot of hard work, but also a lot of luck.’

Voice 2  

But what will Planet Nine be called when someone finds it? Brown and Batygin do not know. They think that giving a planet a name is something too big and important for one person to decide. Brown’s daughter suggested it be named for her - The Lilah Planet. Brown and Batygin discussed calling it George. Brown told the BBC,

Voice 3  

‘The first proposed name for Uranus was George. William Hershal discovered it and he wanted to name it after King George. He did not get his way. We have talked about maybe   we should call this one George just to honour Herschal.’

Voice 1  

What do you think Planet Nine should be called? What name would you give it and why? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/SpotlightRadio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. This programme is called ‘Mike Brown and Planet Nine’.

Voice 1  

You can also get our programmes delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official ‘Spotlight English’ app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

Question:

Who do you think should name a big new discovery? Should the person who discovered it name it? Other experts? Should people name it?

Comments


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on May 16, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spothlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Monday 16, May 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Katy Blake, Bruce Galland, and Michio Ozaki:

First of all, I want to thank you to developed more one great article for us readers and learners of English. 
I think that who should be named by a big new Discovery is the person who created or discovered the Discovery.  So, this person and only he or she deserves to be named about it However, if Mister Mike Brown asked me to name the Planet nine, I would named it with The Lilah Planet. So, Mike Brown’s daughter suggested it be named for her. Thanks!

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil

Avatar Spotlight
Johanna Castillo
said on May 16, 2016

Well for my in my oponion if some day is confirmed their existance, the planet should be called like the discoverers prefer call it, is a right that only belongs to they whatever name that they decide will be right.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on May 16, 2016

I think that better is making a committee from NASA’s scientests, and maybe sharing onther scientests, for called the new planet. Of course after they see it as real.
Respect

Alverindo's avatar
Alverindo
said on April 12, 2017

In my opinion the name could be Mbrown.