Artists impression of the hypothetical star, Nemesis (Wikipedia)

Constraining the Orbits of Planet X and Nemesis

15 Apr , 2009

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If Planet X was out there, where would it be? This question posed by an Italian researcher turns out to be a lot more involved than you’d think. As opposed to all the 2012 idiocy hype flying around on the internet, this research is actually based on a little thing called science. By analysing the orbital precession of all the inner-Solar System planets, the researcher has been able to constrain the minimum distance a hypothetical object, from the mass of Mars to the mass of the Sun, could be located in the Solar System. As most of the astronomical community already knows, the two purveyors of doom (Planet X and the Sun’s evil twin, Nemesis) exist only in the over-active imaginations of a few misinformed individuals, not in reality…

Planet X and Nemesis are hypothetical objects with more grounding in ancient prophecy and doomsday theories based on pseudo-science. This might be the case, but Planet X came from far more rational beginnings.

The name “Planet X” was actually coined by Percival Lowell at the start of the 20th century when he predicted there might be a massive planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. Then, in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh appeared to confirm Lowell’s theory; a planet had been discovered and it was promptly named Pluto. However, as time went on, it slowly became apparent that Pluto wasn’t massive enough to explain the original observations of the perturbations of Uranus’ orbit (the reason for Lowell’s Planet X prediction in the first place). By the 1970’s and 80’s modern observation techniques proved that the original perturbations in Uranus’ orbit were measurement error and not being caused by a massive planetary body. The hunt for Planet X pretty much ended with the discovery of Pluto in 1930, but it never lived up to its promise as a massive planetary body (despite what the woefully erroneous doomsday theories say otherwise).

Now an Italian researcher has published results from a study that examines the orbital dynamics of the inner-Solar System planets, and relates them to the gravitational influence of a massive planetary body orbiting the Sun from afar.

To cut a long story short, if a massive planetary body or a small binary sibling of the Sun were close to us, we would notice their gravitational influence in the orbital dynamics of the planets. There may be some indirect indications that a small planetary body might be shaping the Kuiper Cliff, and that a binary partner of the Sun might be disturbing the Oort Cloud every 25 million years or so (relating to the cyclical mass extinctions in Earth’s history, possibly caused by comet impacts), but hard astronomical proof has yet to be found.

Lorenzo Iorio from the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Pisa (Italy) has taken orbital data from many years of precise observations and used his computations to predict the closest possible distance at which a massive planet could orbit if it was out there.

It turns out that all the planets the mass of Mars and above have been discovered within the Solar System. Iorio computes that the minimum possible distances at which a Mars-mass, Earth-mass, Jupiter-mass and Sun-mass object can orbit around the Sun are 62 AU, 430 AU, 886 AU and 8995 AU respectively. To put this into perspective, Pluto orbits the Sun at an average distance of 39 AU.

So if we used our imaginations a bit, we could say that a sufficiently sized Planet X could be patrolling a snail-paced orbit somewhere beyond Pluto. But there’s an additional problem for Planet X conspiracy theorists. If there was any object of sufficient size (and by “sufficient” I mean Pluto-mass, I’m being generous), according to a 2004 publication by David Jewitt, from the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, we would have observed such an object by now if it orbited within 320 AU from the Sun.

Suddenly, the suggestion that Planet X will be making an appearance in 2012 and the crazy idea that anything larger than a Pluto-sized object is currently 75 AU away seems silly. Sorry, between here and a few hundred AU away, it’s just us, the known planets and a load of asteroids (and perhaps the odd plutino) for company.

Source: arXiv, Astroengine.com


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vagueofgodalming
Member
April 16, 2009 5:10 AM

On a small point of history, Lowell based his predictions on the supposed unexplained wanderings of Uranus. Neptune had only gone a quarter of an orbit since discovery at the time (indeed I think it won’t reach a full orbit until some time in 2011), so astronomers had to use Uranus, as Adams and Le Verrier did. Once Voyager measured the mass of Neptune more accurately, Uranus’s motion didn’t need further explanation. The Encyclopedia of the Solar System (Weissman, McFadden, Johnson eds) has a good summary.

So long as there’s someone profiteering from science misinformation

That would be the notorous Universe Today website, no?

Tenshu
Guest
Tenshu
April 15, 2009 11:07 PM

Good job Ian, of course i wouldn’t be suprised if people start coming in and labeling this as disinformation.–;

Greg
Member
Greg
April 15, 2009 11:35 PM
I suppose the counter argument will be that a large object could have a highly inclined and elliptical orbit, but even that said for one to get to the inner solar system by 2012 we would have seen it long ago. I like the idea of there being a mars sized object responsible for shaping the kuiper cliff. I also think a large body possibly a gas giant orbiting several thousand AUs out could be sending comets out way periodically. I believe a brown dwarf oribitng that far out would have been easily detected by infra red observatories like Kepler by now. The idea of us having missed a comapnion star in a distant orbit is simply proposterous.
r0ach
Member
April 16, 2009 12:54 AM

If we can’t detect a Planet X just around the corner, how the hell are we gonna find Alien Earths ?

This arguments lead to EITHER of the 2 answers:

1) We suck at planet hunting.

OR

2) There’s no Planet X

Anyways, what about the mysterious Pioneer force thingy ? Are these connected ?

Jack
Guest
Jack
April 16, 2009 1:03 AM

Look Ian, Once again. Why are you Posting Scientific answers over such Idiocty Hype? We all Know 2012 is a Hoax. Not a Theory. No Theory. it =’s a Hoax.

ITS A HOAX PEOPLE. GET OVER IT!

And to Tech Roach.

Your second answer is Correct =D

And no. The Pioneer thing isnt related.

Manu
Member
Manu
April 16, 2009 2:00 AM

Just one little disagreement: the D. Jewitt paper does not say that ‘we would have observed [any Pluto-sized] object by now if it orbited within 320 AU from the Sun’.
On the contrary, this figure comes from a table titled ‘Detectability of distant planets’ (p. 10 of the pdf): it gives the farthest possible optical detection distances of bodies (by the Pan-Starrs experiment), according to their sizes.
No Pluto-sized ‘Planet X’ could be detected further than 320 AU.
Hopefully some will be detected closer!

Chris
Guest
April 16, 2009 2:12 AM
“There may be some indirect indications that a small planetary body might be shaping the Kuiper Cliff, and that a binary partner of the Sun might be disturbing the Oort Cloud every 25 million years or so (relating to the cyclical mass extinctions in Earth’s history, possibly caused by comet impacts), but hard astronomical proof has yet to be found.” Or geological evidence. There’s been 10 mass extinctions in the past 550 million years (and they seem to be getting less frequent). If disturbed comets from the Oort Cloud are related to the aforementioned mass extinctions, then there should be upwards of 20 or more observable in the geological record. We also have a very good idea of… Read more »
Sci-Fi Si
Guest
April 16, 2009 4:16 AM

I would so love to hear an appology from the Planet X people on the 22nd December 2012.

“Planet X? Oh, yes. Sorry about that, it doesn’t really exist, we made the whold thing up just so we could scare the s*** out of people, sell a few books and try to make it sound as though we know what we’re talking about”

Phil Plait’s “Death from the skys” sounds like a laugh, but I wonder if anyone has written a book/compilation of all the stupid “End of the World” scams that have been banded about over the generations?

David R.
Member
David R.
April 16, 2009 4:36 AM

Once again, thanks Ian. In my line of work, the disappointment that you’ve inspired among some will ensure some measure of my vocational security.

Aodhhan
Member
Aodhhan
April 16, 2009 4:37 AM

Mass extinction in 2012 will not be the result of some object from space crashing into Earth. Quite simply, the Earth itself will erupt through the several active super volcanos which have been quiet far beyond their expected time.

Wah ha hah ha haaaah.

…that or because there will be a mutation in rabbits, causing them to grow to an average height of 14 feet, and becoming carniverous.

Tea leaf prophecy is never wrong!

Eileen
Guest
April 16, 2009 6:46 AM
Re: “2012 idiocy hype” Ian, I don’t believe in 2012 either but I see no reason why you should be so condescending to those that do. Your ‘idiocy’ statement shows me what kind of individual you are and where you’re coming from, which should certainly be more important than the fact that some think 2012 is possible – don’t ya think? Maybe you don’t care about those who think that way but you should still show respect to them since they are (just like yourself) a human being. Your comment looks like something I would read in a run-a-way forum or the likes of the rudest of the rudest Phil Plaitt. Is that what you want?
Niki
Guest
Niki
April 16, 2009 7:01 AM

It took an Italian from Pisa to close this story?

Ma ci voleva un italiano di Pisa per porre fine a sta storia? grin

From Galileo’s age to modern time, italians do it better ;D
(astronomy -.- malicious….)

ROCA
Member
April 16, 2009 8:24 AM
Iorio’s restrictions state that a Nemesis-brown-dwarf has to be farther than 3800 AU. It is OK, but… On the other hand, since Oort Cloud is around 50000 AU from the Sun, the Nemesis hypothesis of a brown-dwarf sub-stellar body that lurks at 50000 – 100000 AU with a very slow period of some millions years still remains unclear. Here we’re talking about a rogue massive object that periodically shakes the Oort cloud throwing dangerous comets to inner Solar System, causing the cycle mass extinctions… http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/81/3/801 There is a guy that defends the existence of an object that orbits at 1 to 3 light-years far away and it is outside Iorio’s constraints. The guy appeared on the Universe series:… Read more »
MarkW
Member
MarkW
April 16, 2009 8:26 AM

SciFi Si: ‘I wonder if anyone has written a book/compilation of all the stupid “End of the World” scams that have been banded about over the generations?’

There was the Fortean Times Book of the Millenium (published 2000 surprisingly enough). It may not have had _all_ of the stupid EOTW scams, but it had a fair enough selection.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
April 16, 2009 9:58 AM

You know what is funny?
No one knows when the Mayan calender actually ends. Right now there are 22 potential end dates ranging between 200 years ago and 500 years in the future.

But still people insist that it must be 21 dec 2012 since that is a cool number. (I would have chosen 21 12 2112.

The interesting thing is to see where the planets are on that date en how the moon is. Noting interesting to see, planets are not aligned or not even aligned in some pattern, the moon is 66% I believe and also not alagned to anything, so the Mayans would have been very sloppy astronomers.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
April 16, 2009 10:05 AM
@Eileen “Ian, I don’t believe in 2012 either but I see no reason why you should be so condescending to those that do. ” Eileen, these 2012 proponents are sucking victims with these stories and fear dry. People that have no science knowledge might be told to pay big money in order to stay safe on 2012. Con artists have jumped on it to get money from those easy believers, Sect guru’s are using this to get more followers to hide in a big caven and finally commit suicide. People are wasting tons of money building a nuclear cellar in case the planet will distroy earth. People might be spending thousands of dollars in magic bricks because of… Read more »
Olaf
Member
Olaf
April 16, 2009 10:09 AM

Sci-Fi Si Says:

“I would so love to hear an appology from the Planet X people on the 22nd December 2012.”

They will probably say something like this:
Thanks to our prayers to the lord, the lord interviened and saved us from distruction.
(I am wondering how they will then explain why the Hindu side of the world did not get distroyed?)

Trust me they will find a lot of stuff to explain it.

wpDiscuz