A few weeks ago, I posed a question on my personal Facebook profile asking friends whether they’d rather have another large planet, or a black hole, in our solar system.
For sanity’s sake, the answer would probably be another planet. I could live with another Neptune somewhere out in the far corners of our solar system — even if it meant having to come up with a new mnemonic device to remember the planets.
We would still skip Pluto, of course. As we would Ceres, and other dwarf planets.
But word has gotten around the Web in the past month or so that what astronomers thought might be another planet might actually be a black hole.
Yep, one of those cosmic terrors might actually be in the doorstep of our own solar system.
Honestly, there are probably a lot of small black holes hanging out in space. One could swing by Earth, and we might never know until it’s too late. So it should come as no surprise that there would be a black hole even somewhere on the edges of our solar system.
Another disclaimer: Not all black holes are huge, either. Just the ones that hang out near the center of galaxies tend to be the huge ones. Yes, massive stars collapse into black holes, but their pull has a more local effect compared to black holes in the center of the Milky Way and M87, for example.
According to Science Magazine, we should easily be able to determine whether or not there is a black hole at the edge of the solar system by finding any gamma rays emitted by the object. Remember, we’re looking for something very small (planet-sized) and far from the sun, so it’s not like there are flashing lights with an arrow parked over this object. This is something that is going to be a challenge to find. The same goes for a planet, especially that far out.
According to Science, astronomers will examine data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and maybe we’ll be able to find signs of a black hole.
If not, that probably means a planet. Which I’m sure would be more comforting to a whole lot of folks.