On Thursday, December 29th, astronomers pointed the Subaru Telescope atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea near the constellation of Orion in hopes of tracking a moving point of light. The proposed traversing object is believed by many astronomers to be the mysterious and distant Planet Nine.
Earlier this year, Planet Nine's theorized existence was made popular by astronmers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin. The two, based out of Caltech, suggested that orbital abnormalities found in distant objects beyond Pluto may be caused by the influence of a massive celestial body looming in the deep reaches of our Solar System. A planet believed to be 10 times more massive than Earth that follows a highly elliptical orbit with an perihelion (closest point) of 200 Astronomical Units (AU) and aphelion (farthest point) of 1,000 AU.
To put the possible distance of Planet Nine into perspective, Earth orbits the Sun at a comfortable distance of 1 AU or about 93 million miles. Pluto, which took the New Horizons space probe nearly ten years to reach, has an aphelion of 49.3 AU. So we're talking about a planet that, at its closet point, is around 18.5 billion miles away from Earth.
So how can astronomers even find a planet this far off in the distance? Well, it's simple - sort of. First they'll need to know where to look. The orbital trajectory of Planet Nine has been theorized based on gravitational disturbances in far objects, so astronomers have an idea of where to point and shoot. However, it can't just be any old telescope. It will need to be one with a large aparture, like the one found on the Subaru Telescope. This will allow for faint light in the deepest parts of our Solar System to be collected. Planet Nine is so far away that the light it reflects from the Sun will be incredibly dim, so a large apature is vital.
This is where the decetive work really begins. Every night, astronomers will study a frame from the sky and look for something that moves. Because of its vast distance, this will require some patience - possibly taking until next winter to spot. However, If the theory is correct, and eventually they see something move across the canvas of stars, they will have found their ninth planet.
It sounds simplistic, but it's how Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. It would also not be the first time a planet was discovered before it was physically observed. In 1846, Neptune's existence, theorized using only mathematics by Urbain Le Verrier, was proved to be correct within 1° of the predicted position.
If Brown and Batygin's theory is correct, and a giant planet is in orbit from beyond the Kuiper Belt, the model of our Solar System will forever be changed. It will usher in new theories on how our Solar System formed and how Planet Nine was exiled to its current orbital path.
That's become my new favorite question to ask. It's total bullshit and I drop it strictly on a rhetorical basis to my friends in hopes of getting a quick laugh. The question usually leaves my brain on a wisp of whiskey breath when I have nothing more to add to a conversation. Then the topic at hand natually moves on and I get my little laugh. However hollow it may be, it strangly feels invigorating and unequivically fun to ask.
That's because I actually am part of a podcast now - a montly (possibly more frequent in the future) show on a subject that can easily break me out of my anxiety shell in any social setting. The Chicago Bulls.
This began in the fall when my friend, Greg Saul, and I made small talk in the car over the evlolving media landscape on our way to Notre Dame vs Stanford. Greg asked me what my thoughts on podcasts were and if I thought they were pretty easy to produce. Then, with one eye brow raised as if he tried to seem causal, he asked if it was something the two of us could possibly do ourselves. I emphatically said yes and confessed that I had recently been practicing a way to approach him on a very similar proposal.
Within weeks of that conversation, we became the Six Five Guys - a nod to our jealousy inducing height (not to brag). What we've done is simple. We've sat down at a table, poured two glasses of scotch and hit record on an iphone. Following a structred outline, we discuss the past month's Bulls' games and matchups to look forward to in the coming weeks. We are still working on evolving some of our segments but what we've taken a lot of pride in so far is that we're the only podcast talking about the Windy City Bulls - the NBA Developmental League team attributed to the Chicago Bulls now in its inaugural season.
Our goal is for this segment is to talk to the players and let them tell their stories. We both believe that with the pool of talented athletes on this team, that for whatever reason did not get a fair shake in the NBA, there exists an abundence of first hand stories of NCAA bracket busting or draft night disapointments that would make for truely compelling radio unfounded anywhere else.
So that's what the podcast is so far. It is clearly in its infancy and I have yet to learn how to not say uh and um every five seconds. However, it's progressing naturally as Greg and I learn how each episode should flow and sound as we stumble through our mistakes. What makes it fun for us and the listener is that our conversations are completely genuine. There is nothing forced or fake about us. I think if that were the case, we wouldn't be doing this and we certaintly wouldn't be putting ourselves out there to be critiqued and judged. These are the conversations that we normally have. So why not just put a mic in front of us and see what happens.
Hunched over and watching the same Vine loop over and over again, I hated how once again I had been too cheap to purchase NBA League Pass. Only six seconds in length, the clip of Timberwolves vs Sixers had NBA Twitter smashing that retweet button. Karl-Anthony Towns vs Joel Embiid. The reigning rookie of the year double pumping Embiid, then blasting past him to surgically humiliate Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with a one-handed slam. Beautiful. It was just one short glimpse into the NBA's youngest mega-star's future as a dominate big man. (Author's note: I updated this blog post with a YouTube clip since Vine was ripped away from us.)
Just a few years ago, Timberwolves vs Sixers would have been the blandest and quite possibly most boring form of professional basketball since the advent of the peach basket. The Sixers are one thing with their #TrustTheProcess and existing solely to be the third team in complex trades. The Timberwolves have at least tried to compete since Kevin Garnett's departure.
Never quite able to crawl out of the lottery, the Timberwolves played their odds on young talent for over a decade, never recapturing the energy of Garnett's early tenure. Then after years of showing up to the same dance every spring, Minnesota finally won the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Filling the void of post-season June, sports radio hosts debated over who the Timberwolves should pick first. Towns or 6'11" Duke product, Jahlil Okafor.
With the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Timberwolves selected Karl-Anthony Towns, the seven-foot-center out of Kentucky. Okafor went on to be selected third by the Sixers.
Towns solidified confidence in selecting him first overall with a rookie season of 18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg and starting in all 82 regular season games. His performance unanimously won him Rookie of the Year, a rare distinction only happening for the fifth time since the 1984 season. Okafor, in the same season, averaged 17.5 ppg and 7 rpg.
The first 18 games of Towns' sophomore season has been nothing short of spectacular with 22.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg and a shooting percentage of exactly .500 - stats similar to those of former MVP big men Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
The 21-year-old big is quickly ascending to NBA superstardom. His performance against the Knicks on November 30th gained national attention for his 47 and 18 deluge on Kristops Porzingis. However, the young team still can't get over the playoff drought hump. They currently sit at 5-13 and will most likely miss the postseason again. What their problem seems to be is maintaining leads set in the first quarter. Andrew Wiggins and Towns are great together, but are in desperate need of help so their efforts aren't exhausted trying to claw out a win down late in the fourth. The point guard position* has been a disaster and head coach Tom Thibodeau is notorious for concentrating too hard on defense while ignoring glaring offensive holes.
If the TImberwolves can either nail on a lottery pick next summer or possibly trade Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio in a package deal for an established veteran like John Wall, this team could be the anti-Golden State Warriors. By that I mean they'll be title contenders but won't follow the small ball trend. They'll be a tidal wave of offense in the paint and with reliable perimeter defense. But they need to figure it out fast. The worst thing that could happen to this team is paying Towns as a restricted free agent with absolutely no pieces built around him and Wiggins.
That's essentially what has happened to Anthony Davis down in New Orleans. Good for him for signing that contract extension worth $145 million. He earned every bit but now New Orleans can't afford to put anybody better than E'Twaun Moore and Soloman Hill around him. Once a promising, young, playoff team built around an insanely talented and versatile big man, they are now sitting at 7-12.
Learn from New Orleans' mess, Timberwolves. Don't screw this up because, over the next decade, Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be the most electrifying player in the NBA.
*Thank GOD the Bulls didn't trade Jimmy Butler for Kris Dunn on draft night. Good lord that would have been a disaster for Chicago.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.