Published: Thu, June 07, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Mystery of ‘Planet Nine’ at the edge of our solar system deepens

Mystery of ‘Planet Nine’ at the edge of our solar system deepens

But Ann-Marie Madigan, CU Boulder, thinks the distant bodies are so far removed as they are bumping around and crashing into one another - much like bumper cars at a fairground.

In the years since, more evidence of a ninth planet has turned up in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects and the wobble of the Sun, while other astronomers have modeled its composition and even floated the idea of a Mars-sized 10th planet. "We can solve a lot of these problems by just taking into account that question".

After calculating the orbits of the "detached objects" in the Kuiper Belt, Sedna included, the CU Boulder team discovered that these small bumps and jostles in outer space make for a more plausible explanation for the orbital oddity that the existence of Planet Nine.

The orbits of these detached objects clustered together in a way that didn't seem random - but a huge planet way out beyond Pluto, many astronomers agreed, could have tugged them into the observed configuration. The study suggests that bumper car-like interactions at the edges of our solar system may explain the dynamics of unusual bodies called "detached objects".

One particularly vexing object is a minor planet called Sedna. I'm talking about the maybe-kinda-sorta hidden planet that might-kinda-maybe be lurking at the very distant edge of our solar system.

"There could be thousands of these (smaller) bodies out there waiting to be detected", said Jacob Fleisig, a University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduate in astrophysics who presented the new research Monday here at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Denver. Sedna itself was only discovered in 2003, while the second-largest (by volume) and most massive dwarf planet, Eris, was found in 2005.

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Madigan and team weren't exactly looking to explain the odd orbits of these bodies, but when Jacob Fleisig, the lead author of the study, ran a series of simulations to study the dynamics of these bodies, they were totally surprised. Using the simulations, they had calculated that the orbits of icy objects beyond Neptune circle the sun like the hands of a clock.

"You see a pileup of smaller objects to one side of the Sun".

'These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interactions will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape'. And the fact that the orbits all tilt the same way - neatly explained by Planet Nine - can not be explained by the collective gravity hypothesis. As Madison tells Redd, it's possible that if gravity interactions among objects in the Kuiper Belt can sling minor planets outward, they could also redirect comets toward the inner solar system.

"The handful we've seen is not enough", Fleisig said. Now, a new theory has emerged that explains away the presence of Planet 9 in favor of something entirely different.

According to the team, the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hammered our planet 65 million years ago, wiping out almost 75 percent of life on Earth, could have been sent on its collision path by the periodic comet showers that turned up in Fleisig's computer model.

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