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posted by girlwhowaspluggedout on Monday March 10 2014, @12:01AM   Printer-friendly
from the who-keeps-atlantis-off-the-maps dept.

Papas Fritas writes:

"Ian O'Neill writes in Discovery Magazine that despite NASA's best efforts to track it down, there is no evidence for the existence of Planet X. This hypothetical world that may or may not be orbiting the sun beyond the orbit of Pluto has inspired many a doomsday theory. In the run-up to the much anticipated "Mayan Doomsday" of December 21, 2012, the marauding Planet X was scheduled to make a inner-solar system dash, sparking gravitational mayhem and triggering civilization-ending solar flares.

But in spite of the doomsday nonsense, the hunt for "Planet X" actually has roots in real science. In the mid- to late-19th Century, astronomers were tracking the gravitational perturbations of the gas giant planets in an effort to track down an undiscovered world in the outermost reaches of the solar system. This hypothetical massive planet was dubbed "Planet X." However, this fascinating trail ended with the discovery of tiny Pluto in 1930. The idea that the sun may have a stellar partner has also been investigated, perhaps there's a brown dwarf going unnoticed out there. Nicknamed "Nemesis," this binary partner could be evading detection. One strong piece of evidence laid in the discovery of the "Kuiper Cliff," a sudden drop-off of Kuiper Belt objects in the region just beyond Pluto. Could the Cliff be caused by a previously overlooked world? Also, geological record has suggested there's a regularity to mass extinctions on Earth linked to comet impacts. Could a distant orbiting body be perturbing comets, sending them our way on a cyclical basis?

However, the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University has analyzed data from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a space telescope that carried out a detailed infrared survey of the entire sky from 2010 to 2011. If something big is lurking out there, WISE would easily have spotted it. According to a NASA news release, "no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (AU), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 AU. One astronomical unit equals 93 million miles. Earth is 1 AU, and Pluto about 40 AU, from the sun." Observations by WISE have also ruled out the Planet X Comet Perturbation theory.

Related Stories

NASA Website Allows Public to Search WISE Data for Nearby Objects and Planet Nine 6 comments [+]

NASA is collaborating with Zooniverse to allow the public to search WISE data for "nearby" rogue planets, brown dwarfs, and Planet Nine:

NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky.

"There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed."

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.

Previously: No Evidence for 'Planet X', says NASA - "[No] object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (AU), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 AU."
NASA's WISE Spacecraft Discovers Most Luminous Galaxy in Universe
NASA's NEOWISE Mission Finds 72 Additional Near-Earth Objects
Two New Kuiper Belt Objects Boost the Case for "Planet Nine"
The Mysterious 'Planet Nine' Might be Causing the Whole Solar System to Wobble


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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Grishnakh on Monday March 10 2014, @12:07AM

    by Grishnakh (2831) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @12:07AM (#13688)

    What are they talking about? Of course "Planet X" exists. We've known about it since 2005; it's called Eris [wikipedia.org].

    It's not much of a planet, but it's a little bigger than Pluto.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by umafuckitt on Monday March 10 2014, @12:19AM

      by umafuckitt (20) on Monday March 10 2014, @12:19AM (#13690)

      Lowell's Planet X [wikipedia.org] hypothesis was proposed to explain supposed irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. Hence, Planet X had to be very large. Neither Pluto or Eris are it. Neither any of the other TNOs. In the end the irregularities were found not to be real (IIRC).

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @12:46AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @12:46AM (#13700)

        Planet X hypothesis was proposed to explain supposed irregularities in the orbit of Uranus

        Maybe Uranus has Klingons stuck to it.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by frojack on Monday March 10 2014, @12:35AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @12:35AM (#13696) Journal

      Its still not clear the Eris is bigger than Pluto.

      http://www.mikebrownsplanets.com/2010/11/how-big-i s-pluto-anyway.html [mikebrownsplanets.com]

      But both of them together do not amount to an object the size of Saturn (or even Mercury), and neither of them are planets.

      So as NASA said, there is no planet X.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by VLM on Monday March 10 2014, @03:07PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @03:07PM (#14008)

        Honey, does this stellar occultation make my diameter look fat?

        Bigger is flung around pretty randomly. Its about the same diameter but much more massive than Pluto. Its denser.

      • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 10 2014, @03:10PM

        by Grishnakh (2831) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @03:10PM (#14009)

        They ARE planets; they're "dwarf planets". The word "planet" is right there in the name; "dwarf" is simply an adjective which modifies the word "planet".

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by edIII on Monday March 10 2014, @12:24AM

    by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @12:24AM (#13693)

    What will do though? To my knowledge Planet X was home to Illudium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom....

  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @12:43AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @12:43AM (#13699)

    You're Jedi mind tricks will not work on me.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by gishzida on Monday March 10 2014, @12:51AM

    by gishzida (2870) on Monday March 10 2014, @12:51AM (#13702) Journal
    I saw this article [nature.com] the other day. The Nature article in effect says that it may be that the motion of the solar system through "heaver concentrations of dark matter" which causes comets to bombard the inner solar system on the order of ever 35M years. No need for planet X when stuff you can't see will do the job.
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by frojack on Monday March 10 2014, @05:07AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @05:07AM (#13750) Journal

      No need for planet X when stuff you can't see will do the job.

      No need to make up entire planets when you can simply make up undetectable other mysterious stuff.

      If ANY OTHER field of science invented equation balancing kludges like Dark Matter the physicists would laugh them off the podium. But basically When Asked [about.com] they simply say it balances our equations, even if we can't find a single method to detect it.

      Every once in a while a Totally Different Theory [time.com] comes along, only to be kicked to the curb. But like Planet X, Dark Matter will probably prove to be something totally different. Or several things. Or several dimensions. Who knows.

      When your best fudge factor accounts for well in excess of 80% of the universe, your chances of being right in the end are virtually nil.

      Planet X, we hardly knew ya!.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 4, Informative) by dumdumjobes on Monday March 10 2014, @01:11AM

    by dumdumjobes (762) on Monday March 10 2014, @01:11AM (#13705) Homepage

    We hardly knew ya... [wikipedia.org]

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by melikamp on Monday March 10 2014, @01:37AM

    by melikamp (1886) on Monday March 10 2014, @01:37AM (#13710) Journal

    I wish someone with the requisite knowledge would explain why planets are assumed to be hot enough to be detectable. Is it possible that a planet which condensed out of the primordial hydrogen-helium soup has nothing to fuse, and is really really cold by now?

    Call me crazy, but I think it is reasonable to suppose that the frequency of objects is correlated (probably not linearly) with their sizes. The Solar system provides plenty of anecdotal evidence, with 1 star, 4 giants, 19 bodies comparable in size with Earth (down to .1 Earth radius), hundreds of objects comparable to Sharon and Sedna (0.1-0.01 Re), and it just keeps going like that all the way to the microscopic dust. On the galactic scale, red dwarfs are way more populous than all the heavier stars put together, and all but two of the 50+ local group members are tiny disturbed galaxies. So I think the interstellar space may well be littered with stray planets, and if it's not, then we have a really interesting problem on our hands.

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by BradTheGeek on Monday March 10 2014, @02:20AM

      by BradTheGeek (450) on Monday March 10 2014, @02:20AM (#13717)

      Even of the mass is too low to fuse, there is still heating from gravitational effects. One has only to look at the other gas giants to see that. Even if that heating and subsequent emission is low, it should be visible in the infrared, especially with the sensitivity of detectors available to us now.

    • (Score: 1) by morgauxo on Monday March 10 2014, @03:00PM

      by morgauxo (2082) on Monday March 10 2014, @03:00PM (#14006)

      "Is it possible that a planet which condensed out of the primordial hydrogen-helium soup has nothing to fuse"

      Hmm... well, anything made of hydrogen certainly has something to fuse! Hydrogen is the easiest element to fuse!

      But... no planet is ever going to fuse hydrogen (or anything else). Why? By Definition! If it were large enough to have enough pressure to start fusion it wouldn't be a planet. It would be a star!

      However, large planets do still generate their own heat through other methods. We can see this in Jupiter and Saturn, gravitational effects make them hotter than just the energy they receive from the sun. The same should happen with any planet large enough to be the mythical planet X.

      What about small planets? Those don't count when you are talking about planet X. Planet X is a theoretical explanation for oddities in the orbit of Neptune and also for flinging comets towards Earth and causing periodic extinction events. This would require a large planet thus it would be self-warming.

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by VLM on Monday March 10 2014, @03:34PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 10 2014, @03:34PM (#14022)

        "no planet is ever going to fuse hydrogen (or anything else)."

        Jupiter is a fairly effective deuterium fuser with plenty of fuel. You can google for all manner of astrophysics journal papers, its been heavily discussed. Lots of PHD and grad students working on this for a long time. Google for "jupiter excess heat" "jupiter anomalous heat" and similar topics. Jupiter seems likely to squirt out enough D-D fusion heat to explain its unusually high temp, and the rate is reasonable in that its got enough fuel to keep percolating along for like a hundred billion years so its calm and steady state.

        Much as you can make a tabletop device that operates way below breakeven, you can get planets in the same situation, cooking along way below breakeven, yet, still, none the less, slowly cooking. I believe breakeven for deuterium is like 1-2 dozen Jupiter masses and plain old P-P breakeven is around 75 Jupiter masses, certainly less than 100, but this is all from memory.

        For tabletop / lab size / planet or star size, there's no lightswitch below which there's no reaction and above which the rate goes infinite. The rate does scale pretty intensely with mass but its totally arbitrary with current knowledge to call 10 jupiter masses a planet and 15 a star, nothing magical happens just one is hotter than the other. Much like humans love to play name games WRT what is a planet vs a wanna-be planet.

        So yeah, Jupiter fuses plenty of deuterium, enough to raise its temp / heat emission and its measurable. Just not enough to ignite in a self sustaining "fire", not enough by a huge factor.

        Like trying to set soaking wet paper on fire. No a pile of wet newspaper mush won't self sustain burning. But if you hold a torch to it it'll slowly burn or even just sitting around it'll slowly decompose and oxidize. So saying wet paper "won't oxidize" is not correct, although its also true it won't burn like a blazing campfire.

      • (Score: 2) by melikamp on Monday March 10 2014, @04:39PM

        by melikamp (1886) on Monday March 10 2014, @04:39PM (#14081) Journal
        Bah, I meant fission, not fusion. But reading the follow-up discussion made things more clear to me :)
  • (Score: 4, Informative) by c0lo on Monday March 10 2014, @01:40AM

    by c0lo (156) on Monday March 10 2014, @01:40AM (#13711)

    1 AU is exactly 149597870700 metres (1.49597870700e+11 m).

    Or 8.3167464 light minutes.

    26,000 AU = 3603.92 light hours = 150.163 light days

    10,000 AU = 1386.12 light hours = 57.76 light days

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by juggs on Monday March 10 2014, @02:17AM

      by juggs (63) on Monday March 10 2014, @02:17AM (#13715) Journal

      In other words:

      "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."
      - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by c0lo on Monday March 10 2014, @02:29AM

        by c0lo (156) on Monday March 10 2014, @02:29AM (#13721)

        In other words, the use of miles for expressing astronomical distances is pointless.
        It's not at all likely that one would try to grasps these distances in terms of "how much gallons of gas one should fill the tank with for a driving trip to Pluto".

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by juggs on Monday March 10 2014, @03:46AM

          by juggs (63) on Monday March 10 2014, @03:46AM (#13738) Journal

          It gives some kind of human scale to those not familiar with AU. That said I'm not sure how humanly comprehendable 93 million miles is either beyond "woah - that sounds like a long way". Might be better to say ~3741 times around the planet earth. No doubt that would also be met with "woah - that sounds like a long way", shortly followed by "wait now. how big is earth?", some time after followed by "What do you mean by circumference? That's something something round things right? But isn't the earth flat? Looks flat in my atlas.". :D /ethanol-fuelled nonsense

          • (Score: 5, Informative) by c0lo on Monday March 10 2014, @06:18AM

            by c0lo (156) on Monday March 10 2014, @06:18AM (#13758)

            It gives some kind of human scale to those not familiar with AU.

            Using human scale for astronomical distance... you think is a well-defined problem?

            Let's try something else: after more than 34 years since launched, traveling at 17 km/s (11 mi/s), Voyager 1 is at 127.11 AU [nasa.gov]. Would you drive your super-V8 car at 360 km/h (200 m/h), you will cover the same distance in a approx 6735 years; don't try this at home.

            • (Score: 1) by isostatic on Monday March 10 2014, @08:52PM

              by isostatic (365) on Monday March 10 2014, @08:52PM (#14278) Journal

              Would you drive your super-V8 car at 360 km/h (200 m/h), you will cover the same distance in a approx 6735 years; don't try this at home.

              Quite, I'd smash through the patio doors in about 10ms, it would be expensive.

              I think of long distances as groups of moon distance. I can relate to that, it's about twice as far as I fly each year.

              25,000 AU is how far I'd fly in 15 million years. I can't relate to that.

              I can't even cope with 1AU though, if I flew the same distance as I have done in the last crazy 2 months - around the world each month - it would still take centuries to get there.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @11:03AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10 2014, @11:03AM (#13822)

          The usage of miles as a unit is always pointless.

        • (Score: 2) by zocalo on Monday March 10 2014, @03:36PM

          by zocalo (302) on Monday March 10 2014, @03:36PM (#14025)
          OK, so that answers the question of "laden or unladen", but what about "African or European"?
          --
          UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!