Monday, 18 June, 2018

Gravitational interaction, not giant planet, may explain unusual TNO orbits

06_06_sedna_detached_object 'Planet 9' might really be a gang of asteroids shooting comets at us
Cary Marshall | 07 June, 2018, 03:26

On June 4 during a news conference, Ann-Marie Madigan said: "The picture that we are having in our mind is somewhat like a lot many little moons are present in the solar system, and they are floating around the solar system and also interacting with the comets".

The hypothetical Planet Nine, according to calculations, would be a gas giant with about 10 times the mass and four times the size of Earth, with an enormous orbit that would take between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete.

"We can solve a lot of these problems just by taking into account that question".

After calculating the orbits of the "detached objects" in the Kuiper Belt, Sedna included, the CU Boulder team discovered that these small bumps and jostles in outer space make for a more plausible explanation for the orbital oddity that the existence of Planet Nine. The team compared the movements to the hands of a clock - smaller objects like asteroids move fast like minute hands, while the larger objects like Sedna move relatively slower, like hour hands. In recent years, astronomer Mike Brown and others have suggested the gravity of an as-yet-undetected world - Planet Nine - is needed to explain the orbits of several of these distant bodies. For example, there's still "clustering in pomega", which Madigan described as the odd fact that the orbits of the detached objects all tilt the same way. Faced with the latter, these heavenly bodies push her away to distant regions of the Solar system.

Over the last few years, there's been growing evidence for a huge, ninth planet lurking on the very edges of the Solar System.

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"There could be thousands of these (smaller) bodies out there waiting to be detected", said Jacob Fleisig, a University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduate in astrophysics who presented the new research Monday here at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Denver.

The researchers calculated the mass of hundreds of trans-Neptunian objects and discovered that it wouldn't be a stretch for similar bodies to create enough gravitational pull to yank objects as large as dwarf planets into freakish orbits. The physical mechanism by which these massive minor planets become detached is now unknown. "This cycle could wind up shooting comets toward the inner solar system-including in the direction of Earth-on a predictable timescale". And the fact that the orbits all tilt the same way - neatly explained by Planet Nine - can not be explained by the collective gravity hypothesis.

"The objects we've seen so far are just the tip of the iceberg", Fleisig said. "These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interactions will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape". 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".

"The handful we've seen is not enough", Fleisig said.

A new theory put forward by scientists can both explain this unusual behaviour of dwarf planets as well as possibly explain the fate of dinosaurs, notes the report.

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