Presented on ZOOM 13th February at 7pm
ABOUT THE LECTURE:
In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto seemed to mark the furthermost boundary of our solar system. Here, it was thought, was the mysterious Planet X, the ninth planet responsible for inexplicable irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. The discovery of Pluto’s small mass briefly gave Planet X new life: but the discovery that Uranus’s orbit was not irregular after all seemed to kill it once more. There were nine planets in the solar system, with Pluto as the last: an idea that held for decades, an idea we were all taught in school. But now, with Pluto demoted to a dwarf planet, and several other Pluto-like objects discovered in the distant frontiers of the system, the Planet X hypothesis has been unexpectedly resurrected. What lies beyond Pluto? Is there yet another planet out there in the coldest, darkest reaches of our solar system? What is the evidence for this new Planet Nine? And if it truly exists, how and when will we find it?
ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Dr Steph Merritt is a research fellow at the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, where they divide their time between solar system science and exoplanets. They are currently developing open-source software in preparation for the unprecedented Legacy Survey of Space and Time on the Vera C. Rubin telescope, anticipated to see first light next year: this survey is expected to find millions of new solar system objects and revolutionise our understanding of the solar system’s formation and history.
Their path to astronomy was somewhat unusual: after leaving school with no qualifications, they worked several entry-level jobs for years before deciding to re-enter education and become an astronomer instead. They have a first class MSci degree in Physics and Astrophysics from Queen’s University Belfast, and undertook their PhD at the same institution, studying the atmospheres of the huge, close-orbiting exoplanets known as hot Jupiters.
Outside of astronomy, they like reading good novels, writing terrible novels, playing videogames, and cross-stitch.