Gravitational "bumper cars" could put Planet Nine hypothesis on ice

"The picture we have in our head is a lot of little moons floating around the solar system, interacting with comets", Ann-Marie Madigan, an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), said during a news conference today (June 4). "We can solve a lot of these problems by just taking into account that question". On the mysterious and hypothetical celestial body that could be on the borders of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune, everything has been said so far and the opposite of everything.

Could planet 9 be a cluster of asteroids and not one large body? Some astronauts believe that these bodies can be an indication that in the Solar system there is a ninth planet, which transforms these objects into separate. Some scientists have suggested that the source of this weirdness is an undiscovered planet, dubbed Planet X or Planet 9, whose gravity warps the orbits of detached Kuiper Belt objects.

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 weird orbits. Sedna circles the sun at a distance of almost 8 billion miles and doesn't even come near solar system's giant planets.

Madigan and CU Boulder undergraduate student Jacob Fleisig presented the results here at the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, in Denver.

The explanation may come from "bumper car-like interactions" going on in the Kuiper Belt and which cause these "detached objects" to slam into each other and collide with space debris.

According to the researchers' simulations, the TNOs move like hands on a clock, with the most massive objects moving slowly, like the hour hand, and the smaller ones ticking along quickly, like the minute hand.

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"You see a pileup of smaller objects to one side of the Sun".

Repeated interaction cycles among large and small TNOs may be responsible for pushing comets into the inner solar system on regular timescales. "The smaller ones move faster than the larger ones; when the bodies crash, the orbits change in shape and orientation due to these small-scale interactions ".

Planet Nine has not been confirmed, however, and all attempts to find it have been fruitless. One of these objects, called 2012 VP113, immediately jumped to the eye of astronomers, as it seemed to orbit in an extremely irregular way: the two researchers then hypothesized, using computer simulations, that the cause of alterations in the orbit of VP113 could be referable to the presence of a planet of mass between 2 and 15 terrestrial masses and about 200 astronomical units (about 30 billion kilometers) from the Earth.

According to the team, the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hammered our planet 65 million years ago, wiping out almost 75 percent of life on Earth, could have been sent on its collision path by the periodic comet showers that turned up in Fleisig's computer model.

Remarkably, these relatively insignificant objects may also be culpable in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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

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