from the putting-crowdsourcing-to-good-use dept.
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."
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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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.
A remote galaxy shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy found to date and belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE -- extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs.
"We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution," said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report appearing in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy's black hole."
The brilliant galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas. Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a disk around them, heating the disk to roaring temperatures of millions of degrees and blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.
Immense black holes are common at the cores of galaxies, but finding one this big so "far back" in the cosmos is rare. Because light from the galaxy hosting the black hole has traveled 12.5 billion years to reach us, astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the distant past. The black hole was already billions of times the mass of our sun when our universe was only a tenth of its present age of 13.8 billion years.
The new study outlines three reasons why the black holes in the ELIRGs could have grown so massive. First, they may have been born big. In other words, the "seeds," or embryonic black holes, might be bigger than thought possible.
"How do you get an elephant?" asked Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for WISE at JPL and a co-author on the paper. "One way is start with a baby elephant."
NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its second year of survey data. The spacecraft has now characterized a total of 439 NEOs since the mission was re-started in December 2013. Of these, 72 were new discoveries.
[...] Since beginning its survey in December 2013, NEOWISE has measured more than 19,000 asteroids and comets at infrared wavelengths. More than 5.1 million infrared images of the sky were collected in the last year. A new movie, based on the data collected, depicts asteroids and comets observed so far by NEOWISE.
"By studying the distribution of lighter- and darker-colored material, NEOWISE data give us a better understanding of the origins of the NEOs, originating from either different parts of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or the icier comet populations," said James Bauer, the mission's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
For the past few years, [Scott] Sheppard of [the Carnegie Institution for Science], [Chadwick] Trujillo [of Northern Arizona University] and David Tholen of the University of Hawaii have been hunting for objects in the far outer solar system using several different instruments, including the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Dark Energy Camera, which is installed on a 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. [...] The astronomers discovered several dozen previously unknown bodies, including a roughly 155-mile-wide (250 km) object called [2014 FE72] that gets an incredible 4,000 AU from the sun at its most distant point. That puts it out in the outer Oort Cloud — the realm of comets.
[...] They also discovered two 125-mile-wide (200 km) objects, known as 2014 SR349 and 2013 FT28, that "cluster" in one of the key orbital parameters (known as argument of perihelion), furthering strengthening the case for Planet Nine's existence. (The objects' names reflect the years that they were first spotted in the survey; their discovery is being announced in the new study.) "We have 15 or so of these extreme objects now, and all of them cluster in this argument of perihelion angle," Sheppard said.
Furthermore, he added, the five most distant of these 15 extreme objects share similarities in another orbital characteristic as well, one called longitude of perihelion. Significantly, the far-flung five are too distant to be realistically affected by any gravitational tugs from Neptune (whose influence could be the reason the other 10 objects' longitudes of perihelion don't line up). It would take just two or three more such additional finds to put Planet Nine on solid ground, Sheppard said. "I think statistics-wise, in the next year to two years we'll probably find enough of these small, extreme objects to really say if Planet X exists or not," he said. [...] "We need like 10 or 20 of these smaller extreme objects, and we can probably nail down much better where Planet X would be out there," Sheppard said.
Also at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
The massive hypothetical object, which supposedly looms at the edge of our solar system, has been invoked to explain the strange clustering of objects in the Kuiper belt and the unusual way they orbit the Sun.
Now Planet Nine predictors Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of Caltech, along with graduate student Elizabeth Bailey, offer another piece of evidence for the elusive sphere's existence: It adds "wobble" to the solar system, they say, tilting it in relation to the sun.
"Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment," lead author Bailey said in a statement.
Before we go any further, a caveat about Planet Nine: It's purely theoretical at this point. Batygin and Brown predict its existence based on unusual perturbations of the solar system that aren't otherwise easily explained. (This is the same technique scientists used to find Neptune.) But the history of astronomy is rife with speculation that is never borne out: The same guy who correctly predicted the existence of Neptune also believed that a planet he called Vulcan was responsible for the wobble of Mercury. That "discovery" caused the astronomy world to waste years looking for something that wasn't there. (Mercury's wobble was eventually explained by the theory of general relativity.)
But the evidence offered by Batygin and Brown is compelling. When the pair announced their find in January, planetary scientist Alessandro Morbidelli of the Côte d'Azur Observatory in Nice, France, told The Washington Post: "I don't see any alternative explanation to that offered by Batygin and Brown."
"We will find it one day," he added. "The question is when."
Planet Nine's angular momentum is having an outsized impact on the solar system based on its location and size. A planet's angular momentum equals the mass of an object multiplied by its distance from the sun, and corresponds with the force that the planet exerts on the overall system's spin. Because the other planets in the solar system all exist along a flat plane, their angular momentum works to keep the whole disk spinning smoothly.
Planet Nine's unusual orbit, however, adds a multi-billion-year wobble to that system. Mathematically, given the hypothesized size and distance of Planet Nine, a six-degree tilt fits perfectly, Brown says.
A team of astronomers investigating extreme trans-Neptunian objects (orbiting at more than 150 AU) has found two objects that may have been torn apart by a gravitational encounter with a planet:
a team of researchers led by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) in collaboration with the Complutense University of Madrid has taken a step towards the physical characterization of these bodies, and to confirm or refute the hypothesis of Planet Nine by studying them. The scientists have made the first spectroscopic observations of 2004 VN112 and 2013 RF98, both of them particularly interesting dynamically because their orbits are almost identical and the poles of the orbits are separated by a very small angle.
This [suggests] a common origin, and their present-day orbits could be the result of a past interaction with the hypothetical Planet Nine. This study, recently published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that this pair of ETNOs was a binary asteroid which separated after an encounter with a planet beyond the orbit of Pluto.
Also at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.
Visible spectra of (474640) 2004 VN112–2013 RF98 with OSIRIS at the 10.4 m GTC: evidence for binary dissociation near aphelion among the extreme trans-Neptunian objects (open, DOI: 10.1093/mnrasl/slx003) (DX)
The existence of significant anisotropies in the distributions of the directions of perihelia and orbital poles of the known extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs) has been used to claim that trans-Plutonian planets may exist. Among the known ETNOs, the pair (474640) 2004 VN112–2013 RF98 stands out. Their orbital poles and the directions of their perihelia and their velocities at perihelion/aphelion are separated by a few degrees, but orbital similarity does not necessarily imply common physical origin. In an attempt to unravel their physical nature, visible spectroscopy of both targets was obtained using the OSIRIS camera-spectrograph at the 10.4 m Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC). From the spectral analysis, we find that 474640–2013 RF98 have similar spectral slopes (12 versus 15 per cent/0.1 μm), very different from Sedna's but compatible with those of (148209) 2000 CR105 and 2012 VP113. These five ETNOs belong to the group of seven linked to the Planet Nine hypothesis. A dynamical pathway consistent with these findings is dissociation of a binary asteroid during a close encounter with a planet and we confirm its plausibility using N-body simulations. We thus conclude that both the dynamical and spectroscopic properties of 474640–2013 RF98 favour a genetic link and their current orbits suggest that the pair was kicked by a perturber near aphelion.