"Planet X" may be real: A planet four times the size of Earth may be lurking at the outer edges of our solar system, too far away to be seen by Earth-based telescopes. Astronomers think it's there because they've noticed that something is tugging at small icy objects past Neptune, helping to explain the mystery of those objects' peculiar orbits.
Astronomer Rodney Gomes has completed computer models that suggest the existence of the distant planet. For several years, astronomers have observed that a handful of the small icy bodies that lie in the so-called "scattered disc" beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune, including the dwarf planet Sedna, deviate from the paths around the sun that would be expected based on the gravitational pulls of all the known objects in the solar system.
In Space.com, Natalie Wolchover quotes astronomer Mike Brown as saying, "Sedna's orbit is truly peculiar."
Many astronomers spent much of the last decade searching for Planet X, beyond the orbit of Neptune, because they believed there were anomalies in the orbits of Neptune and the other gas giants. Wolchover quotes astronomer Hal Levison as saying, "But it turned out that anomaly in Neptune's orbit was the result of bad observation.
"You can go back 100 years to claims of planets in the outer solar system and they've all eventually gone away. That should give you pause for thought. Just because there's not a good explanation for (the orbits of the scattered disc objects) besides another planet, doesn't mean there won't be a good explanation in future.
"The strength of the idea that there is a planet out there will be the inability to find another explanation for these objects. But seeing it is the only way to prove it." So why don't they send Hubble out to look for it?
Wolchover quotes astronomer Douglas Hamilton as saying, "(Gomes) has taken on a difficult task, but is taking the right approach. It is definitely a high risk, high reward, situation--a discovery of a new planet would be spectacular!"
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