Planet Nine could be a cluster of asteroids sending comets Earth's way

Is Planet Nine actually there at all? More

Is Planet Nine actually there at all? More

"There are so many of these bodies out there", says Anne-Marie Madigan, co-author of the new study. It would also have to be about ten times more massive than Earth, have a diameter ranging from two to four times that of Earth, and an orbital period of 15,000 years to account for the effects on TNOs. Some of the larger TNOs, including Sedna, are considered "detached objects", meaning they do not have a strong gravitational interaction with Neptune or any other body in the solar system.

The new research revolves around observations of the dwarf planet Sedna, one of the most distant celestial bodies ever discovered. The rest of the objects in the solar system, however, are pulled into elliptical orbits by the gravity of giant planets like Jupiter and Neptune.

But a new study offers a different explanation for the unusual orbits of these "detached objects" in the far reaches of the solar system.

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According to CU Boulder, the team looked at one of these objects in particular - a dwarf planet called Sedna, which orbits the sun at a distance of almost eight billion miles and is distant enough so as not to be affected by Neptune's gravity, the Inquisitr previously reported - and tried to understand why its orbit looks the way it does.

This research was supported by NASA Solar System Workings and the Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium Summit Supercomputer.

The work explaining the collective gravity theory was presented at a press briefing at the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which runs from June 3-7 in Denver. Sedna itself was only discovered in 2003, while the second-largest (by volume) and most massive dwarf planet, Eris, was found in 2005.

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"They are what's causing this detachment, and not an unseen ninth planet", study lead author Jacob Fleisig, an undergraduate astrophysicist at the university, said during the conference. "This cycle could wind up shooting comets toward the inner solar system-including in the direction of Earth-on a predictable timescale". Using the simulations, they had calculated that the orbits of icy objects beyond Neptune circle the sun like the hands of a clock. "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 ". 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.

These findings are supported by a 2012 study, which revealed that bigger "detached objects" tend to wander farther away from the sun, notes CU Boulder. Now, reports Jay Bennett at Popular Mechanics, a new analysis suggests the mysterious Planet 9 may not exist at all-and the weird orbits can instead be explained by swarms of asteroids.

These groupings of distant asteroids and other small objects could also interact with comets lurking out on the chilled edges of our solar system, tightening and widening their orbits over and over again. "While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs", Fleisig added, "it's tantalizing".

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