We get alot of email regarding the whole planet X enigma - skeptics claim that it's not been a valid argument since the early 80's. This shows how uninformed most skeptic debunker types truly are. Here's the first of a series of reputable articles on the subject from the late 90's onward
revolves around the sun
teams of researchers have proposed the existence of an unseen planet or a failed
star circling the sun at a distance of more than 2 trillion miles, far beyond
the orbits of the nine known planets. The theory, which seeks to explain
patterns in comets’ paths, has been put forward in research accepted for
publication in two separate journals.
SPECULATION ABOUT the existence of unseen celestial companions dates back far
before the discovery of Pluto in 1929 — and even figures in more recent fringe
phenomena such as the 1997 “Heaven’s Gate” tragedy and talk of a new “Planet X.”
This latest hypothesis, however, is aimed at answering nagging scientific
questions about how particular types of comets make their way into the inner
Some comets, like Halley’s Comet, follow relatively
short-period orbits — circling the sun in less than two hundred years. These
comets are thought to originate in the Kuiper Belt, a disk of cosmic debris that
lies beyond Neptune’s orbit.
The best way to think of the distances
involved is in terms of Astronomical Units. One AU is the distance from Earth to
the sun (93 million miles or 149.6 million kilometers). Pluto, the most distant
of the planets, is at 39 AU. The Kuiper Belt extends from 30 AU to perhaps 1,000
Even further out is the Oort Cloud, a spherical haze of comets
surrounding the solar system at distances between 10,000 AU and more than 50,000
AU. That’s where long-period comets such as Hale-Bopp are thought to come from.
For some time, astronomers have noticed that the directional patterns of these
comets are not completely random. And after years of study, some researchers are
reporting that the patterns hint at something big out there perturbing the
COULD IT BE?
No telescope has yet detected this object. But on the basis of its gravitational
effect, John B. Murray, a planetary scientist at Britain’s Open University,
speculates that the object could be a planet larger than Jupiter, the biggest of
the solar system’s known planets. Murray puts the object’s orbit at 32,000 AU,
or 2.98 trillion miles from the sun. His proposal appears in the Oct. 11 issue
of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette say the object could be
a planet or brown dwarf — that is, a dark, failed star — roughly three times the
size of Jupiter and orbiting at 25,000 AU. The researchers, led by physicist
John Matese, say their paper is to be published by the journal Icarus.
Both studies acknowledge that other factors could influence the pattern seen in long-period comets: for example, the Milky Way’s gravitational tidal effects.
But the Louisiana researchers say the cometary patterns are best explained by
the existence of “a perturber, acting in concert with the galactic tide.”
Matese said the proposed object should make one orbit around the sun every 4
million to 5 million years. Murray said the object he had in mind would make one
orbit every 6 million years, circling the sun in a direction counter to that
followed by the nine traditional planets.
The two researchers said
they were familiar with each other’s work but hadn’t taken a close look at each
other’s studies. They acknowledged that their estimates for the mass and orbit
of a mysterious object were similar, but couldn’t say whether they were talking
about the same object.
How could such a massive object
exist so far from the sun? The researchers say a planet or dark star could have
coalesced during the formation of the solar system billions of years ago, but
more probably would be a passing celestial body that was captured by the sun’s
subtle gravitational pull.
Another question: Why hasn’t such an object been seen? Murray says
that even a Jupiter-scale planet could not be observed at the immense distances
involved. Matese and his colleagues say that their hypothetical brown dwarf
wouldn’t have been detected even by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which
surveyed the heavens in 1983 — but that the yet-to-be-launched Space Infrared
Telescope Facility just might be able to pick it up.
All this may
sound like science fiction, but an expert in the field notes that the hypothesis
has been a subject of serious speculation for years.
wondered whether there was something out there,” said Brian Marsden, who heads
the International Astronomical Union’s Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams
as well as the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical
If the research holds up, it could
open the door for renewed speculation on even spookier questions: Some theorists
have proposed that the gravitational effect of a massive unseen object in a
distant orbit — nicknamed “Nemesis” or the “Death Star” — could set off periodic
cometary storms, which would increase the chances of a catastrophic impact with
Earth. Indeed, physicist Daniel Whitmire, a colleague of Matese’s who is a
co-author of the new research, laid out just such a scenario in 1985 to explain
mass extinctions on Earth, such as the demise of the dinosaurs.
Matese also speculated back then about such an effect, but he emphasized that
the newly detected object didn’t fit the doomsday profile.
object is not a Nemesis,” he told MSNBC. “It does not create comet storms.”
his proposed object appeared to have an influence on about 25 percent of the
long-period comets coming in from the Oort Cloud.