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Is this the death star?
An interesting story from abc news, especially in light of the "death
circulating about ten years ago to the effect that the sun had a "dark
companion" body orbiting it, which caused regular mega-extinctions by
throwing comets into the inner solar system every (?)28,000,000 years..
A Tenth Planet?
Disturbance of Comets Hints at Something Out There
By Kenneth Chang
Oct. 7 ? Astronomers may have found hints of a
massive, distant, still unseen object at the edge
of the solar system ? perhaps a 10th planet,
perhaps a failed companion star ? that appears
to be shoving comets toward the inner solar
system from an orbit 3 trillion miles away.
Two teams of scientists ? one in England, one at
University of Louisiana at Lafayette ? independently
report this conclusion based on the highly elliptical
of so-called ?long-period comets? that originate from
icy cloud of debris far, far beyond Pluto.
?We were driven to this by rejecting everything
we could think of,? says University of Louisiana
Clump of Comets
A couple years ago, Whitmire and fellow physicist John
Matese noticed the farthest points of the comets?
didn?t appear random but bunched together, tracing a
path across the sky.
?We accidentally noticed they weren?t uniform,?
First, they tried to explain the clumping from the
gravitational pull from a main disk of stars in the
Way stars. ?That ultimately didn?t work,? Whitmire
?We?ve gone through several other models trying to
At around the same time, John Murray, a planetary
scientist at The Open University in Great Britain, made
similar observation in similar comet data. ?I started
puzzling what this might could be,? he says.
The most obvious but seemingly unlikely
would be a planet. ? I thought we?d better rule that
he says. But as he analyzed the orbits, the farthest
appeared to fall on a circular orbital path ? ?which is
exactly what you would expect if there was a planet out
As the planet ? estimated to have a mass between
one and 10 Jupiters ? orbits, its gravitational wake
disturbs the icy debris of the outer solar system,
some of it to plunge toward the sun as comets.
What?s surprising is just how far out there this
planet is. Both Murray and the University of Louisiana
physicists put the planet in an orbit about 3 trillion
or half a light-year ? from the sun. The nearest star
four light-years away.
To put this distance in perspective, consider a
miniaturized version of the solar system in which Earth
one inch from the sun. On this scale, Pluto, the ninth
would be a bit more than a yard from the sun. The new
planet, by contrast, would be a half-mile distant.
At that great distance, the 10th planet would be
dim to see by current telescopes, although there is
hope that if it exists, the next generation of
infrared telescopes might be able to pick it up.
Murray hypothesizes the planet may have been
wandering through the galaxy before being captured by
the solar system?s gravity. Whitmire suggests it is a
?brown dwarf,? or a failed star, a companion to the sun
that was too small to light up.
Although suggestive, the findings are not
While Murray and the Louisiana physicists agree how
distant the new object is, they trace out very
orbits. Murray considers the orbits of 13 comets with
most accurately known orbits; the Louisiana team
Too Early to Look for a Name
?It?s possibly suggestive,? comments Brian Marsden,
associate director for planetary sciences at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in
Cambridge, Mass. ?I don?t want to bet on it. We?re
certainly not going to name it.?
Whitmire agrees it?s too early to say definitely
something out there.
?Until it?s found, you can never be overly
he says. ?We know in science you can be fooled by
statistics.? But he adds, ?If I was betting, it?s
50-50 odds that it?s there.?
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