Nicolas B. Cowan, Gil Holder, Nathan A. Kaib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cosmology experiments at millimeter wavelengths can detect Planet Nine if it is the size of Neptune, has an effective temperature of 40 K, and is 700 au from the Sun. It would appear as a ∼30 mJy source at 1 mm with an annual parallax of ∼5 arcmin. The challenge is to distinguish it from the approximately 4000 foreground asteroids brighter than 30 mJy. Fortunately, these asteroids are known to the Minor Planet Center and can be identified because they move across a resolution element in a matter of hours, orders of magnitude faster than Planet Nine. If Planet Nine is smaller, colder, and/or more distant than expected, then it could be as faint as 1 mJy at 1 mm. There are roughly 106 asteroids this bright and many are unknown, making current cosmology experiments confusion limited for moving sources. Nonetheless, it may still be possible to find the proverbial needle in the haystack using a matched filter. This would require millimeter telescopes with high angular resolution and high sensitivity in order to alleviate confusion and to enable the identification of moving sources with relatively short time baselines. Regardless of its millimeter flux density, searching for Planet Nine would require frequent radio measurements for large swaths of the sky, including the ecliptic and Galactic plane. Even if Planet Nine had already been detected by other means, measuring its millimeter flux would constrain its internal energy budget, and therefore help resolve the mystery of Uranus and Neptune, which have vastly different internal heat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL2
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • parallaxes
  • planets and satellites: detection
  • planets and satellites: individual (Planet Nine, Planet X, Bowie)
  • planets and satellites: interiors
  • proper motions
  • radio continuum: planetary systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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