When the word ‘Planet X’ was first coined in 1969, it was not a planet.
It was just a place on the outer edges of our solar system, between Mars and Jupiter, a planet whose gravity was stronger than Earth’s.
Now known as a giant red dwarf, the star is so massive it could support a small planet, or perhaps even a human.
But the star was so faint it had not yet been detected in visible light.
Astronomers called the star Planet Nine, and in 1974 it was the first planet discovered.
When scientists looked closer, they saw a bright spot of hydrogen, and thought it might be a star.
Then the hydrogen stopped glowing, and the astronomers realised it was a robot.
“We had a robot at that time, but we thought it was going to crash and burn,” said Professor Bruce Bechtel, from the University of Queensland’s School of Physics.
The robot was called MESSENGER, and was built by Dr. Robert L. Bechtels, a University of Texas astronomer and the lead investigator on the first robotic probe to fly past a star, the Cassini spacecraft in 2004.
MESSENGer is now known as Cassini-Huygens, after the Greek word for “hue”, and was launched to explore Saturn.
In the years that followed, the team found that MESSEN, like many other stars, had a dark core, a cloud of gas and dust orbiting the star.
That was the case for other stars as well, but MESSen had a cloudier atmosphere, making it appear to be warmer than it really was.
And the scientists also found that the planet itself had a large magnetic field, making the surface appear to radiate light.
But in the end, there was no robot in the picture.
It was a mistake.
Professor Bechtell was a veteran of the Apollo programme, and a friend of the first man to set foot on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.
He was also a graduate of Harvard University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
While it was possible to see MESSENTE with the naked eye, it took a few hours to get a picture.
The team did the next best thing, using a spectrometer to measure the gas clouds and hydrogen, the first thing to glow.
The scientists were then able to see a faint patch of hydrogen and the star itself, confirming their hypothesis.
As the MESSENS team continued to investigate, the robot’s discovery was becoming more and more popular.
It attracted the attention of NASA and the European Space Agency, and eventually NASA sent a team of robotic probes to MESSERNESS.
At first, they were only interested in MESSENDER, as MESSEAR was much too far away to detect.
Now, the mission team has made the discovery of the planet’s companion known.
With the discovery that MELTUS, MESSETER, TRIPLE MESSER and MESSELON are all asteroids in the system, MELTSE, MESTER and MESTESS are likely to be much closer.
This makes it much easier to find MESSELL, and scientists believe that the discovery could pave the way for further observations of other asteroids, as well.
What was once thought to be a planet may turn out to be one of the most beautiful, interesting objects in the Solar System.
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