(Another) Tenth Planet Discovered
Largest planet in the solar system could be about to be discovered: up to four times the size of Jupiter
Scientists believe they may have found a new planet in the far reaches of the solar system, up to four times the mass of Jupiter.
Its orbit would be thousands of times further from the Sun than the Earth's - which could explain why it has so far remained undiscovered.
Data which could prove the existence of Tyche, a gas giant in the outer Oort Cloud, is set to be released later this year - although some believe proof has already been garnered by Nasa with its pace telescope, Wise, and is waiting to be pored over.
Prof Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette believes the data may prove Tyche's existence within two years.
He told the Independent: 'If it does, [fellow astrophysicist Prof John Matese] and I will be doing cartwheels. And that's not easy at our age.'
He added he believes it will mainly be made of hydrogen and helium, with an atmosphere like Jupiter's, with spots and rings and clouds, adding: 'You'd also expect it to have moons. All the outer planets have them.'
He believes the planet is so huge it will have a raised temperature left from its formation that will make it far higher than others, such as Pluto, at -73C, as 'it takes an object this size a long time to cool off'.
He and Prof Matese first suggested Tyche existed because of the angle comets were arriving, with a fifth of the expected number since 1898 entering higher than expected.
However, Tyche - if it exists - should also dislodge comets closer to home, from the inner Oort Cloud, but they have not been seen.
If confirmed, the status and name of the new planet - which would become the ninth and potentially the largest - would then have to be agreed by the International Astronomical Union.
Currently named Tyche, from the Greek goddess that governed the destiny of a city, its name may have to change, as it originated from a theory which has now been largely abandoned.
10th Planet Discovered
Astronomers have found a new planet in the outer reaches of the solar system - NASA
"It's definitely bigger than Pluto." So says Dr. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology who announced the discovery of a new planet in the outer solar system.
The planet, which hasn't been officially named yet, was found by Brown and colleagues using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. It is currently about 97 times farther from the sun than Earth, or 97 Astronomical Units (AU). For comparison, Pluto is 40 AU from the sun.
Image: An artist's concept of the new planet. [More]This places the new planet more or less in the Kuiper Belt, a dark realm beyond Neptune where thousands of small icy bodies orbit the sun. The planet appears to be typical of Kuiper Belt objects -- only much bigger. Its sheer size in relation to the nine known planets means that it can only be classified as a planet itself, Brown says.
Backyard astronomers with large telescopes can see the new planet. But don't expect to be impressed: It looks like a dim speck of light, visual magnitude 19, moving very slowly against the starry background. "It is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky in the constellation Cetus," notes Brown [as of 2005 when this discovery was mare – New Illuminati Ed.].
The planet was discovered by, in addition to Brown, Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. They first photographed the new planet with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope on October 31, 2003. The object was so far away, however, that its motion was not detected until they reanalyzed the data in January of this year. In the last seven months, the scientists have been studying the planet to better estimate its size and its motions.
"We are 100 percent confident that this is the first object bigger than Pluto ever found in the outer solar system," Brown adds.
The new planet, circled in white, moves across a field of stars on Oct. 21, 2003. The three photos were taken about 90 minutes apart. Image credit: Samuel Oschin Telescope, Palomar Observatory. [More]Telescopes have not yet revealed the planet's disk [at time of writing]. To estimate how big it is, the astronomers must rely on measurements of the planet's brightness. Like all planets, this new one presumably shines by reflecting sunlight. The bigger the planet, generally speaking, the bigger the reflection. The reflectance, the fraction of light that bounces off the planet, is not yet known. Nevertheless, it is possible to set limits on the planet's diameter:
"Even if it reflected 100 percent of the light reaching it, it would still be as big as Pluto," says Brown. Pluto is 1400 miles (2300 km) wide. "I'd say it's probably [about] one and a half times the size of Pluto, but we're not sure."
The planet's temporary name is 2003 UB313. A permanent name has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name. Stay tuned!
|What Lurks in the Outer Solar System? -- (Science@NASA) |
Astronomers Discover "10th Planet" -- (Sky and Telescope)
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