Also far out to be simply spotted by telescopes, the likely unseen planet appears to be making its presence felt by disturbing the orbits of so-known as Kuiper belt objects, stated Rodney Gomes, an astronomer at the National Observatory of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Kuiper belt objects are tiny icy bodies—including some dwarf planets—that lie past the orbit of Neptune.
The moment deemed the ninth planet in our system, the dwarf planet Pluto, for instance, is one of the largest Kuiper belt objects, at about 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) broad. Dozens of the other objects are hundreds of miles across, and a lot more are being discovered every year.
What’s intriguing, Gomes stated, is that, according to his new calculations, about a half dozen Kuiper belt objects—including the remote entire body acknowledged as Sedna—are in strange orbits compared to in which they should be, primarily based on current solar system models.
The objects’ sudden orbits have a few attainable explanations, said Gomes, who presented his findings Tuesday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
“But I think the easiest one is a planetary-mass solar companion”—a planet that orbits really far out from the sun but that is enormous ample to be having gravitational effects on Kuiper belt objects.
Mystery Planet a Captured Rogue?
For the new work, Gomes analyzed the orbits of 92 Kuiper belt objects, then compared his benefits to computer designs of how the bodies should be distributed, with and without an further planet.
If there is no distant world, Gomes concludes, the models do not create the extremely elongated orbits we see for 6 of the objects. How massive exactly the planetary physique may be is not clear, but there are a great deal of possibilities, Gomes added.
Based mostly on his calculations, Gomes thinks a Neptune-size world, about four times bigger than Earth, orbiting 140 billion miles (225 billion kilometers) away from the sun—about 1,500 times farther than Earth—would do the trick.
But so would a Mars-dimension object—roughly half Earth’s size—in a really elongated orbit that would sometimes bring the entire body sweeping to inside of 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) of the sun.
Gomes speculates that the mystery object could be a rogue planet that was kicked out of its own star system and later captured by the sun’s gravity.
Or the putative planet could have formed closer to our sun, only to be cast outward by gravitational encounters with other planets. Nevertheless, really finding such a globe would be a challenge.
To start with, the planet may be rather dim. Also, Gomes’s simulations do not give astronomers any clue as to wherever to point their telescopes—”it can be anywhere,” he stated.
No Smoking Gun
Other astronomers are intrigued but say they’ll want a great deal far more proof ahead of they are inclined to agree that the solar system—again—has 9 planets. (Also see “Record Nine-Planet Star System Discovered?”)
“Naturally, finding another planet in the solar system is a big deal,” said Rory Barnes, an astronomer at the University of Washington. But, he added, “I never think he actually has any evidence that suggests it is out there.”
As a substitute, he added, Gomes “has laid out a way to establish how such a planet could sculpt parts of our solar system. So although, yes, the evidence doesn’t exist but, I believed the greater point was that he showed us that there are methods to find that evidence.”
Douglas Hamilton, an astronomer from the University of Maryland, agrees that the new findings are far from definitive. “What he showed in his probability arguments is that it is slightly much more likely. He doesn’t have a smoking gun however.”
And Hal Levison, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says he is not sure what to make of Gomes’s finding.
“It seems surprising to me that a [solar] companion as modest as Neptune could have the effect he sees,” Levison said.
But “I know Rodney, and I am sure he did the calculations correct.”
Sources and more information:
In 1950, Dutch astronomer Jan Oort hypothesized that comets came from a vast shell of icy bodies about 50,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth is. A year later astronomer Gerard Kuiper suggested that some comet-like debris from the formation of the solar system should also be just beyond Neptune.