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Artist's illustration of the alien planet. Image: NASA/ESA/M. Kornmesser

A planet spotted 336 light-years from Earth could help scientists learn more about whether there is a large "Planet Nine" or "Planet X" lurking in the outskirts of our solar system.

Why it matters: Scientists have been hunting for the hypothetical Planet Nine for years. The new characterization of this alien planet by the Hubble Space Telescope shows that worlds like the theoretical planet can exist in other solar systems.

Details: The exoplanet is "very widely separated from its host stars on an eccentric and highly misaligned orbit, just like the prediction for Planet Nine," Meiji Nguyen, an author of the new study about the planet in the Astronomical Journal said in a statement.

  • "This begs the question of how these planets formed and evolved to end up in their current configuration."
  • The double star system the planet was found in is relatively young, at 15 million years old, suggesting these types of worlds could form early in the histories of their solar systems.
  • Scientists suggest the planet may have ended up in its strange orbit because it was flung far from its stars at some point in the past.

The big picture: Researchers think Planet Nine might exist in our solar system due to the strange orbits of a handful of objects past Neptune in what's known as the Kuiper belt.

  • Advocates of the theory suggest the gravity of a large planet in a strange orbit may be shaping how these other bodies move.
  • The exoplanet studied by the Hubble could serve as a good model for what Planet Nine's early history in our solar system could have looked like.
  • "It's as if we have a time machine for our own planetary system going back 4.6 billion years to see what may have happened when our young solar system was dynamically active and everything was being jostled around and rearranged," Paul Kalas, another author of the study, said in the statement.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 21, 2020 - Science

The great planetary conjunction of 2020

Jupiter and Saturn seen together on December 13. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Jupiter and Saturn will appear as a double planet in the night sky Monday evening thanks to a rare planetary alignment.

Why it matters: A "great conjunction" where these two planets are seen this close together is exceedingly rare. According to NASA, the last time Jupiter and Saturn appeared this close together was 400 years ago, but it's been about 800 years since this kind of alignment happened at night.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.