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Discover The Mysterious Planet At The Edge Of Our Solar System At The Adler

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on May 26, 2016 7:35PM

Photo courtesy of the Adler Planetarium

A new sky show, Planet Nine, debuts on the domed screen of Adler Planetarium's Grainger Sky Theater this Friday. It's the planetarium's first new sky show in two years, and it will introduce viewers to groundbreaking new findings on the outer limits of our solar system.

Planet Nine is a story born right here in Chicago. It began a year ago, when the planetarium paired up with the Kavli Foundation to host a lecture from Caltech astrophysicist Mike Brown. (Brown is often referred to as the "Pluto Killer," for his research that got Pluto downgraded to a dwarf planet.) In the Adler lecture, Brown discussed the latest findings from NASA's New Horizons mission, which launched in 2006. In July of 2015, the mission provided the first ever fly-by of Pluto as well as images that revealed the Kuiper Belt—the area of the solar system beyond Neptune—in much more detail than ever before.

After the lecture, originally called "Tales from the Outer Solar System," the team at Adler reached back out to Brown and his team, hoping to turn Brown's lecture materials into a sky show. The goal was to tell the story of his research on the Kuiper Belt in a new, accessible way.

Brown told Chicagoist that he's excited to be sharing cutting-edge findings with the public this way, even as more research is still underway.

"I love this part of the show. Often in scientific shows presented to the public, you see an exposition of what we know. Here you are seeing an exploration of how we learn the things that we know," he said. "I find it much more compelling to bring people along on the quest than to just tell them about it when it is all done."

Planet Nine's goal was to take its audience "under the hood of the scientific process," but that presented a problem. How do you tell a story that is so new? Content with science this new could change daily.

And it did. Brown and his team were studying some of the other inhabitants of the Kuiper Belt—like the incredibly bright dwarf planet Eris, which can reflect 97 percent of the sun's light (compared to our moon's measly 12 percent)—when they noticed something else: irregular orbits. These orbits suggested that another gravitational force was acting on these objects, competing with the sun. The source of this gravitational pull, termed Planet Nine, is located somewhere beyond Pluto—and if it's competing with the sun, it's big.

"It has to be huge. It has to be something like 10 times the mass of the Earth," Brown told Chicago Tonight.

Brown's latest research complicated the sky show. "We were still scripting [the film] when [Brown] came back with the math that proves that this planet is living out there," Sarah Cole, Adler's vice president of visitor experience, told Chicagoist.

All of this adds up to an Adler show like none other. Planet Nine promises to bring viewers a look at the bleeding edge of astronomical research. What we'll see in the reclining seats of the Grainger is emergent science, brought to the public even before some experts get a chance to see it themselves. We'll be in line to see it on opening day.

"I hope people get a new appreciation for how amazing all of the worlds beyond Neptune are, and how we're using them to learn even more about the solar system," Brown said.

Planet Nine debuts at the Adler Planetarium's Grainger Sky Theater Saturday, May 28. It is a ticketed show but is included in the price of All Access Passes to the Adler. For more details or to purchase tickets, visit the Adler Planetarium's website.