The success of the Juno probe in arriving at Jupiter prompts another question – where next for Nasa? The next search could be in deep space for what has become known as Planet Nine. Nasa / AP Photo
The success of the Juno probe in arriving at Jupiter prompts another question – where next for Nasa? The next search could be in deep space for what has become known as Planet Nine. Nasa / AP Photo

After probing Jupiter with Juno, what next for Nasa?

Nasa’s triumph in putting a lorry-sized probe in orbit around Jupiter this month masks an inconvenient truth for the space agency: it’s running out of places to go.

Even before Juno arrived at the giant planet, Nasa had sent probes to all the key destinations of the solar system at least once, completing its bucket list last summer when the New Horizons mission zipped past Pluto.

So where next? Fortunately, astronomers think they may have found a stunning new destination for Nasa to aim for – a planet far beyond Pluto and one much bigger than the Earth.

Code-named Planet Nine, hints of its existence have been building for more than a decade. Now some of the world’s biggest telescopes are being employed to scour the region of the night sky where it is thought to lie.

They have been led there by a series of clues littered about the dark wilderness of space far beyond Pluto, once regarded as the furthest outpost of the solar system.

Discovered in 1930, Pluto was itself thought to be the ninth planet, with a mass roughly equal to that of the Earth.

But as more data emerged it became clear Pluto was smaller even than our own Moon, prompting its official demotion to the status of dwarf planet in 2006.

But by then hints of a worthy successor to the title of ninth planet had begun to emerge.

Pluto’s demotion had been prompted by the discovery during the 1990s that it is just one of a vast belt of similar moon-like bodies that lies beyond Neptune.

Known as Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, more than 1,000 have been identified, their vast orbits round the sun strongly influenced by the huge gravitational pull of Neptune. One KBO broke the mould. Sedna, discovered in 2003 by a team led by Prof Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, has a bizarre, elliptical orbit that took it out more than 140 billion kilometres from the Sun.

That made Sedna a long-range probe of whatever lay out in the frigid void far beyond Neptune. Studies of its orbit suggested it was under the gravitational influence of something other than Neptune.

These suspicions grew in 2014, when another Sedna-like object was found on a barely less extreme orbit.

Combining its orbital data with that of Sedna and three other long-range KBOs, Prof Brown and his Caltech colleague and theoretician Konstantin Batygin found signs of gravitational “herding” by some unknown source of gravity.

To find out more, they turned to one of the standard tools in modern-day science – computer simulations.

Starting from a random collection of KBOs spread out beyond Neptune, the two tried to recreate their current arrangement by introducing a hypothetical planet with different masses and orbits.

This showed that Planet Nine had to be pretty hefty, about 10 times the mass of Earth, and followed a highly elliptical orbit going even deeper into space than Sedna.

The simulations also revealed a telltale sign pointing to the reality of Planet Nine – it would lead to some KBOs following strange paths tilted almost vertically relative to the Earth’s orbit.

Describing their work in the current issue of Physics World, Prof Brown and Prof Batygin report how they checked for the existence of such KBOs last autumn, and were stunned to find that five were already known to astronomers.

Even so, the professors remain cautious about the evidence: “Until Planet Nine is caught on camera, it remains a theoretical prediction.”

So what are the chances of Planet Nine being seen? They say the object is probably about three times the diameter of the Earth and is about 16 times further from us than Pluto.

Being so far from the Sun, Planet Nine will thus be extremely faint and certainly thousands of times dimmer even than Pluto.

Nevertheless, astronomers believe telescopes are well capable of spotting the new planet, if they are looking in the right place.

Calculations suggest it may lie in the constellation of Orion and, given it probably takes 19,000 years to complete one orbit of the Sun, Planet Nine is not moving out of that region any time soon.

Among the telescopes already recruited to the hunt for Planet Nine is the colossal, 8.2-metre Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, which can scour large areas of the night sky for extremely faint objects in one pass.

Meanwhile, other astronomers are trying to answer the next big question about Planet Nine – if it does exist, why is it so far away from the other eight?

Until recently, the standard theory of the solar system pointed to a pretty sedate origin for the planets that would make Planet Nine a huge conundrum.

Along with the Sun, they supposedly condensed out of a primordial cloud of dust and gas about 4.5 billion years ago, with gravity sculpting them and leaving them in pretty much the same orbits they started in.

But more recently, computer simulations have suggested the early solar system was a far more violent place, with the major planets locked in gravitational tussles that shunted them around.

Some may have changed places – or even been thrown out altogether.

Prof Brown and Prof Batygin are among those who think Planet Nine may be a case in point, ejected from the solar system billions of years ago. But now a new theory is doing the rounds that our Sun stole Planet Nine from another star.

A study recently published by the UK Royal Astronomical Society suggests that the “theft” could have taken place when the Sun was still close to other newly formed stars 4.5 billion years ago.

As it left its galactic birthplace, it could have snatched Planet Nine from one of its neighbours.

This would make Planet Nine a truly extraordinary member of our solar system – an “exoplanet” from another star.

With even the nearest stars being 10,000 times further away than Pluto, Planet Nine thus presents a potentially unique opportunity.

As study leader Dr Alexander Mustill, of Lund University, Sweden, put it: “This is the only exoplanet that we realistically would be able to reach using a space probe.”

Using the technology that took Juno to Jupiter, it would take a probe decades to get to Planet Nine. But to Nasa’s engineers, that will sound like a challenge too good to pass up.

Robert Matthews is Visiting Professor of Science at Aston University, Birmingham.

The specs: 2019 Haval H6

Price, base: Dh69,900

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 197hp @ 5,500rpm

Torque: 315Nm @ 2,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 7.0L / 100km

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.


This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


Company name: Silkhaus

Started: 2021

Founders: Aahan Bhojani and Ashmin Varma

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Property technology

Funding: $7.75 million

Investors: Nuwa Capital, VentureSouq, Nordstar, Global Founders Capital, Yuj Ventures and Whiteboard Capital


Company name: CarbonSifr
Started: 2022
Based: Dubai
Founders: Onur Elgun, Mustafa Bosca and Muhammed Yildirim
Sector: Climate tech
Investment stage: $1 million raised in seed funding

Dengue fever symptoms
  • High fever
  • Intense pain behind your eyes
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Rash

If symptoms occur, they usually last for two-seven days

Bridgerton season three - part one

Directors: Various

Starring: Nicola Coughlan, Luke Newton, Jonathan Bailey

Rating: 3/5

How to wear a kandura


  • Wear the right fabric for the right season and occasion 
  • Always ask for the dress code if you don’t know
  • Wear a white kandura, white ghutra / shemagh (headwear) and black shoes for work 
  • Wear 100 per cent cotton under the kandura as most fabrics are polyester


  • Wear hamdania for work, always wear a ghutra and agal 
  • Buy a kandura only based on how it feels; ask questions about the fabric and understand what you are buying

Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan (vice-captain), KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik (wicketkeeper), Deepak Hooda, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Vijay Shankar, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohammad Siraj and Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper)


Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5


Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends


Friday Valladolid v Osasuna (Kick-off midnight UAE)

Saturday Valencia v Athletic Bilbao (5pm), Getafe v Sevilla (7.15pm), Huesca v Alaves (9.30pm), Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid (midnight)

Sunday Real Sociedad v Eibar (5pm), Real Betis v Villarreal (7.15pm), Elche v Granada (9.30pm), Barcelona v Levante (midnight)

Monday Celta Vigo v Cadiz (midnight)

What are NFTs?

Are non-fungible tokens a currency, asset, or a licensing instrument? Arnab Das, global market strategist EMEA at Invesco, says they are mix of all of three.

You can buy, hold and use NFTs just like US dollars and Bitcoins. “They can appreciate in value and even produce cash flows.”

However, while money is fungible, NFTs are not. “One Bitcoin, dollar, euro or dirham is largely indistinguishable from the next. Nothing ties a dollar bill to a particular owner, for example. Nor does it tie you to to any goods, services or assets you bought with that currency. In contrast, NFTs confer specific ownership,” Mr Das says.

This makes NFTs closer to a piece of intellectual property such as a work of art or licence, as you can claim royalties or profit by exchanging it at a higher value later, Mr Das says. “They could provide a sustainable income stream.”

This income will depend on future demand and use, which makes NFTs difficult to value. “However, there is a credible use case for many forms of intellectual property, notably art, songs, videos,” Mr Das says.


The flights
Etihad and Emirates fly direct from the UAE to Delhi from about Dh950 return including taxes.
The hotels
Double rooms at Tijara Fort-Palace cost from 6,670 rupees (Dh377), including breakfast.
Doubles at Fort Bishangarh cost from 29,030 rupees (Dh1,641), including breakfast. Doubles at Narendra Bhawan cost from 15,360 rupees (Dh869). Doubles at Chanoud Garh cost from 19,840 rupees (Dh1,122), full board. Doubles at Fort Begu cost from 10,000 rupees (Dh565), including breakfast.
The tours 
Amar Grover travelled with Wild Frontiers. A tailor-made, nine-day itinerary via New Delhi, with one night in Tijara and two nights in each of the remaining properties, including car/driver, costs from £1,445 (Dh6,968) per person.

Mina Cup winners

Under 12 – Minerva Academy

Under 14 – Unam Pumas

Under 16 – Fursan Hispania

Under 18 – Madenat

Who are the Soroptimists?

The first Soroptimists club was founded in Oakland, California in 1921. The name comes from the Latin word soror which means sister, combined with optima, meaning the best.

The organisation said its name is best interpreted as ‘the best for women’.

Since then the group has grown exponentially around the world and is officially affiliated with the United Nations. The organisation also counts Queen Mathilde of Belgium among its ranks.

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Part three: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE


Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
The distance learning plan

Spring break will be from March 8 - 19

Public school pupils will undergo distance learning from March 22 - April 2. School hours will be 8.30am to 1.30pm

Staff will be trained in distance learning programmes from March 15 - 19

Teaching hours will be 8am to 2pm during distance learning

Pupils will return to school for normal lessons from April 5


Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5


Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

Three ways to boost your credit score

Marwan Lutfi says the core fundamentals that drive better payment behaviour and can improve your credit score are:

1. Make sure you make your payments on time;

2. Limit the number of products you borrow on: the more loans and credit cards you have, the more it will affect your credit score;

3. Don't max out all your debts: how much you maximise those credit facilities will have an impact. If you have five credit cards and utilise 90 per cent of that credit, it will negatively affect your score.

The UAE Today

The latest news and analysis from the Emirates

      By signing up, I agree to The National's privacy policy
      The UAE Today