Collective gravity, not Planet Nine, may explain the orbits of ‘detached objects’

Ismael LynchJun 07, 2018

If the theory is correct, it would mean that there is no Planet Nine, but that there's potentially thousands of smaller, undetected objects cruising around near the edge of our system. "We can solve a lot of these problems by just taking into account that question".

This research was supported by NASA Solar System Workings and the Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium Summit Supercomputer.

But Ann-Marie Madigan, CU Boulder, thinks the distant bodies are so far removed as they are bumping around and crashing into one another - much like bumper cars at a fairground. How they got to the outer solar system on their own is an ongoing mystery. On the mysterious and hypothetical celestial body that could be on the borders of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune, everything has been said so far and the opposite of everything. "There's a lot more stuff out there than we once thought, which is really cool".

In the latest study, presented this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers looked at new models depicting how the massive swarm of objects that make up the Kuiper Belt orbit the sun.

The work revealed that icy objects beyond Neptune move around the sun just like the hands of a clock, with smaller bodies moving quickly than bigger ones such as Sedna - a minor planet that takes 11,000 years to complete a single orbit around the sun. This explains the oddball behavior of Sedna, which is a little smaller than Pluto but follows a massive, circular orbital path to circumnavigate the sun, just like other detached objects.

Repeated interaction cycles among large and small TNOs may be responsible for pushing comets into the inner solar system on regular timescales.

But instead, undergraduate astrophysics student Jacob Fleisig helped Dr Madigan envision all the different bodies outside the solar system chaotically crashing into one another.

Fleisig ran a computer model for the orbits of these odd distant objects and uncovered that they move a lot like hands on a clock.

"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the Sun", he said.

"These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interaction will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape".

Planet Nine has not been confirmed, however, and all attempts to find it have been fruitless. While the researchers couldn't directly connect their observations to the collision that wiped out the dinosaurs and most life on Earth, Fleisig called the possibility "tantalizing".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder started by developing computer simulations of the orbits of "detached objects" - distant dwarf planets like Sedna, as well as icy comets, moons and other bodies, that seem to be separated from the rest of the Solar System.

The gravitational interactions among TNOs may also explain another unusual event: the extinction of the nonavian dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

'While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs.

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