AndyLloydWe seem to be getting very close now to a discovery of a massive Planet X in the outer solar system. I heard this report on the evening BBC news, a slot which indicates the seriousness with which this subject is now being taken by the scientific community:
“American astronomers say they have strong evidence that there is a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond even the dwarf world Pluto. The team, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has no direct observations to confirm its presence just yet. Rather, the scientists make the claim based on the way other far-flung objects are seen to move. But if correct, the putative planet would have 10 times the mass of Earth.
“The Caltech astronomers have a vague idea where it ought to be on the sky, and their work is sure to fire a campaign to try to track it down. “There are many telescopes on the Earth that actually have a chance of being able to find it,” said Dr Mike Brown. “And I’m really hoping that as we announce this, people start a worldwide search to go find this ninth planet.”
The group’s calculations suggest the object orbits 20 times farther from the Sun on average than does the eighth – and currently outermost – planet, Neptune, which moves about 4.5 billion km from our star. But unlike the near-circular paths traced by the main planets, this novel object would be in a highly elliptical trajectory, taking between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete one full lap around the Sun.” (1)
Dr Mike Brown is a premier academic planet-hunter, and for him to make this public pronouncement is quite unprecedented. One can only assume that his team have experienced a leak of their information, nudging him to go public with a paper in the Astronomical Journal (2). After all, it is only one month since similar speculation – that time by scientists working at the large array at Atacama in Chile – was widely criticised by astronomers for being presumptuous (3). Why risk similar criticism if they’re not sure of what they’re proposing? There is clearly heightened excitement going on at the moment, with the stakes running very high indeed. Here’s what Dr Mike Brown said last month about the two proposals put forward by the Atacama teams:
“Mike Brown, a prominent California Institute of Technology astronomer and self-described “Pluto killer” who discovered several large TNOs that dethroned the former planet, unleashed another statistical argument against the claimed new planets on Twitter. “If it is true that ALMA accidentally discovered a massive outer solar system object in its tiny, tiny, tiny, field of view,” Brown tweeted, “that would suggest that there are something like 200,000 Earth-sized planets in the outer solar system. Which, um, no.
“”Even better,” he added later, “I just realized that this many Earth-sized planets existing would destabilize the entire solar system and we would all die.” That said, Brown notes, “the idea that there might be large planets lurking in the outer solar system is perfectly plausible.”” (4)
So, whilst acknowledging the real potential for the presence of undiscovered large planets out there, he was sceptical that the Atacama team had been lucky enough to stumble upon such an object given the tiny fields of view they were studying when they picked these blips up. It is now clear that he has been on the hunt for this object himself for some time.
In older posts on this subject.
Editor’s note: Mike Brown speculates that it takes 20,000 years for this planet to make a full circle. The Sumerian clay tablets are quite precise in that it takes 24,000 years however we don’t seem to pay much attention to the oldest written records of our planetary history.