New Discovery at the Edge of Solar System Suggests Planet X May Still Be Out There

Image Credit: Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

Image Credit: Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

Time lapse photo showing movement

On the third episode of the re-tooled COSMOS, Neil deGrasse Tyson took his ship of the imagination to the Oort cloud to discover the origin of comets. He may have to go back.

Astronomers have discovered a second dwarf planet orbiting in the far reaches of the solar system, well beyond the boundary of the Kuiper Belt, where poor Pluto orbits,  demoted to minor planet status in part by Tyson himself.  The new object, designated 2012 VP113,  is estimated to have a diameter of 450 km, and makes its closest approach to the sun at a very distant 80 astronomical units.   Its only known companion is the dwarf planet Sedna.

The interesting part is that it quite likely has a great deal of company, as many as a thousand more celestial bodies, including some according to the team which discovered 2012 VP113, that “could rival the size of Mars or even Earth.”

And that’s not all, not by a long shot.  The similarity in orbits displayed by 2012 VP113 and Sedna suggests that the long hypothesized Planet X, sometimes called Nemesis, could still be a possibility. Rather than a very dim red dwarf star, or a Jupiter sized object, it could be roughly 10 times the size of Earth,  orbiting so far out and radiating so little heat, that nothing in the current tool box is capable of detecting it.

The timing is almost comical. Earlier this month, results of a search by NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer were interpreted to suggest Planet X did not exist.

The NASA report on the new Dwarf Planet is here, and a Sky and Telescope article on the implications for Planet X is here.

We really need to start cranking out the PU-238, there is an awful lot of solar system to explore.

Posted in: Outer Planets

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