Home > astronomy > Astronomers raise possibility of more planets beyond Neptune

Astronomers raise possibility of more planets beyond Neptune

Astronomers from a university in Spain suggested in a paper published earlier this month that there may be at least two planets in our solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, shown here in a 1989 image obtained by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Image courtesy NASA.

Astronomers from a university in Spain suggested in a paper published earlier this month that there may be at least two planets in our solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, shown here in a 1989 image obtained by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Image courtesy NASA.

A paper published earlier this month in a European journal proposes that the solar system may include two or more additional planets beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The hypothesis is based on a mathematical calculation of the expected orbital dynamics of other objects that orbit the sun in the vast region beyond our star’s outermost known planet.

Scientists have long understood that extreme trans-Neptunian objects should proceed in orbit on a path that has an inclination of zero degrees and an angle of perihelion of about zero degrees. The accepted theory also holds that the semi-major axis of ETNOs should be about 150 astronomical units.

The inclination of a celestial object’s orbit is the angular distance between that orbit and the ecliptic. An object’s perihelion is the point in the object’s orbit where it is closest to the sun. The semi-major axis of an orbit can best be thought of as the radius between the two points in an orbit that are most distant from each other.

In the cases of 12 of the ETNOs, the data indicates that their orbits do not comport with those expectations. For example, their semi-major axes vary between 150 AU and 525 AU and the average inclination of their orbits is about 20 degrees.

“This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNO and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, an astrophysicist at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain and a co-author of the study, said. “The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system.”

Fuentes and two co-authors applied a phenomenon called the Kozai mechanism, a mathematical model that shows how a more distant celestial object affects the orbit of one that is closer to the sun, to achieve their hypothesis. The researchers applied the Kozai mechanism to a comet called 96P/Machholz1 and Jupiter as a model.

The analysis suggests that the only way the dozen ETNOs would demonstrate the orbital characteristics they do is if at least two more planets, larger than Earth, are farther out in space.

This conclusion is not consistent with the traditional view of the solar system, which holds that no planets in a circular orbit beyond Neptune are possible.

But other recent research indicates that the conventional view of the maximum size of our solar system may be incorrect. In 2014, for example, astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile documented the discovery of a star system about 450 light years away in which a planet-forming cloud of debris exists more than 100 AUs from the star.

Scientists have also confirmed the presence of at least two celestial objects far beyond Pluto with eccentric orbits that may be explained by the presence of a planet larger than Earth in the inner Oort cloud. Those dwarf planets – Sedna and 2012VP113 – have highly elongated orbits that, at perihelion, come no closer than 76 and 80 AUs from the sun and, at aphelion, are more than 900 AUs and more than 450 AUs away from our star.

This month’s paper appears in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It builds on conclusions the same authors proposed in another paper published in the same journal in Sept. 2014.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

coastal traveler

Trust, Faith and Change

Lewis Editorial

Bringing stories to life

Grey World Nomads

Around The World At A Slow Pace

The 70 at 70 Challenge

And so, I turned 70, and a new decade beckons....

The Last Ocean

Protecting the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

eoearthlive

Encyclopedia of Earth on WordPress

Evolutionary Biology

No foresight, no way back

Why? Because Science.

Combating Stupidity Since 2012

Empirical SCOTUS

Viewing the Supreme Court in an entirely new light

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

%d bloggers like this: