Planet Nine Might Not Be Responsible For Bizarre Orbits Of Distant Objects

The mysterious dwarf planet Sedna discovered in 2003.                  NASA  JPL

However, a new study exploring the interaction between icy trans-Neptunian objects sitting in the outer parts of our solar system hints that the collective gravity from these objects, and not Planet Nine, might be responsible for the odd orbits of the detached objects.

But Ann-Marie Madigan, an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, has a different argument. This hypothesized world, dubbed Planet 9, would be approximately 10x the mass of Earth, 2-4x its diameter, and would have an elongated orbit that takes as much as 15,000 years to travel once around the sun. How they got to the outer solar system on their own is an ongoing mystery.

This means Sedna's orbit can transition from being relatively normal to appearing to be detached from our solar system because of a multitude of interactions with the gravity of smaller bodies.

"He came into my office one day and says, 'I'm seeing some really cool stuff here, '" Madigan said.

One theory for its unusual dynamics is that an as-of-yet-unseen ninth planet beyond Neptune may have disturbed the orbits of Sedna and other detached objects.

The skeptics include Madigan and Fleisig, who, along with study co-author Alexander Zderic, a UC Boulder graduate student, think they've found an alternate solution to the weird orbital signatures. Like other such detached objects, Sedna moves sedately through a huge circular orbit that keeps it well away from Neptune and other planets that might otherwise perturb it. The physical mechanism by which these massive minor planets become detached is now unknown.

An artist's impression of the dwarf planet Sedna, some 12.9 billion kilometres (8 billion miles) from the sun, along with a hypothetical moon.

According to the researchers' simulations, the TNOs move like hands on a clock, with the most massive objects moving slowly, like the hour hand, and the smaller ones ticking along quickly, like the minute hand.

"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the sun", Fleisig said in the statement, explaining the point when the two hands meet.

'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'.

Speaking at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Jacob Fleisig of the University of Colorado at Boulder presented a tantalizing new bit of research. But because the largest objects are hurled into the most eccentric orbits, they become more hard to find, the researchers said.

These bumper car-like interactions can explain numerous anomalies out there, without needing to invent a huge Planet Nine.

This swarm of asteroids may also be able to mess with the orbits of comets and other asteroids, and under the right conditions (researchers estimate roughly every 30 million years) the rogue asteroid in question will end up on a collision course with Earth.

Well, as it turns out, the new theory that axes Planet Nine might also be tied to the dinosaur extinction.

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