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Steve Crilley

God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

21. 1. 2016 - 16:18

We know it’s out there somewhere!

Reality Check looks into Caltech's discovery of Planet 9.

There is a big large object floating around. We know it’s there because it causes other things to wobble nearby. The only problem is we can’t see it. Or more precisely, we haven’t really found it yet.

Welcome to the latest conundrum facing the world of planetary science. A big planet, at a distance far, far away from our sun, that seems to be exerting a gravitational pull on other planets and objects that we can see. For now, it’s being labelled as the 9th Planet.

But hang on sec, what about Pluto. Pluto, was considered to be the ninth planet after its discovery in 1930. But, in 2006, eminent scientists had a vote on its very nature and decided to downgrade and re-label it a dwarf planet. In fact, Pluto was probably feeling a little left-out until last year when the New Horizons missions began beaming back amazing footage of a mysterious icy world with the possibility of an ocean deep beneath its surface. Suddenly, Pluto went up in the appreciation stakes and there were calls to re-instate the tiny world into full planetary status. The jury is still out on that one!

Back to today’s news of "Planet 9", also labelled informally “George” or “Planet of the Apes” by scientists. The story goes that the Caltech guys, who came up with today’s announcement, weren’t actually looking for Planet 9 directly. They were number crunching the orbits of 2 other smaller objects found beyond Pluto in the so-called Kuiper Belt. These objects had unusual orbits, and so, according to the laws of physics, assuming those laws still exist at the edge of our solar system, something big had to be out there, throwing its weight around, so to speak!

In fact, the man whose work led to the discovery of Pluto, Percival Lowell, was also looking for something big, exerting its influence over Uranus & Neptune. His calculations later produced Pluto, but that was clearly too small a world to be causing the wobbles to its known neighbours. 86 years later, we are pretty certain that there’s a cold, dark world out there, too shy, as yet, to step out of the shadows. But the race is on to grab the first images. All you need is a big telescope, a super-computer to help with the location calculations and plenty of time on your hands to gaze in wonder at what is lurking at the edge of our solar system.

In the meantime, we got in touch with Dr Matt Burleigh, at the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, at the University of Leicester, for his take on the news.

The 9th Planet

We also checked in on what's going on in Vietnam as leaders of the ruling Communist Party in Hanoi sit down for their big meeting. This time, things appear to be slightly less scripted which is causing a lot of speculation that Vietnam is about to go down one of two diverging paths. Our man in Hanoi, Tony Cheng, told us what is going on there.

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Back home, with the limits being set on future refugee numbers allowed to stay in Austria, this is also a cause for concern around other EU capitals. So we went to Brussels for some thoughts from the corridors of EU powers.

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The Zirka Virus is borne & spread by mosquitos and it is causing a lot of concern particulary in South American countries, like Brazil and Columbia. And there have been warnings to pregnant women who develop symptoms of Zika Virus. We spoke more about the virus with Dr. Derek Gatherer, a lecturer in biomedical and life sciences at Lancaster University.

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A report has just been published by a UK judge that concludes that Russia ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in Britain and that President Putin probably gave his personal approval. Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian FSB secret Service. But he fled Russia and got political asylum in Britain. In 2006, he suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized. He died three weeks later, becoming the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium-induced poisoning. Our London correspondent Olly Barratt gave us the ramifications of the Litvinenko Report.

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Haftungsausschluss

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