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Star Parties kick off for spring Feb. 5 with ‘Another Ninth Planet?’

Move over Pluto, and make way for what could be the newest — and ninth — planet.

“Another Ninth Planet?” will be the subject of Dr. Chuck Higgins’ talk as MTSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy’s First Friday Star Parties resume for the spring semester.

Star Parties spring 2016

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For the next three months, star parties will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 5, March 4, April 1 and April 22 in Room 1006 of the Science Building, located at 440 Friendship St.

A searchable campus parking and building map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap.

The public and campus community are invited to the free 45-minute lectures, which are followed by telescope observations at the MTSU Observatory, weather permitting.

First Friday Star Parties are a way for the department to bring MTSU and its surrounding communities together to view and discuss the stars, planets and more.

Higgins, an associate professor, said a Jan. 16 paper published in The Astronomical Journal by California Institute of Technology researchers Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. “Mike” Brown highlights evidence for a large planet-sized object — larger than 10 Earth masses — in the distant solar system.

“The evidence is based on numerical simulations to try to explain observed data that show an unexpected clustering of distant objects in the Kuiper belt,” Higgins said.

Dr. Chuck Higgins

Dr. Chuck Higgins

“In more simple terms, astronomers have noticed that some small bodies well beyond Neptune have some strange orbits,” he added. “One possible explanation causing these strange orbits is gravitational influence from a large planet — at least 10 Earth masses — that is 700 astronomical units from the sun.”

Earth is 1 astronomical unit, or approximately 93 million miles, from the sun.)

During the Feb. 5 star party, Higgins will explain the disturbed orbits and highlight the evidence for this possible “ninth” planet.

Astronomers downgraded Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, leaving eight planets in the solar system.

The other scheduled First Friday Star Party dates, topics and presenters for spring 2016 include:

  • March 4 — “Not So Dark Dark Matter” with Dr. Irina Perevalova, assistant professor of chemistry.
  • April 1 — “Symmetry, the Big Bang and You” with Dr. Rob Mahurin, physics and astronomy lecturer.
  • April 22 — “Buying and Using a Telescope” with Dr. John Wallin, physics and astronomy professor. This star party also is a special Alumni Weekend event.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

MTSU's First Friday Star Parties resume Feb. 5 for the spring 2016 semester. Weather permitting, each event includes telescope observations at the MTSU Observatory after the lecture. (MTSU file photo)

MTSU’s First Friday Star Parties resume Feb. 5 for the spring 2016 semester. Weather permitting, each event includes telescope observations at the MTSU Observatory, located between the Wiser-Patten Science Hall and Smith Hall, after the lecture. (MTSU file photo)

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