Scientists are hunting to prove the existence of a new planet called Tyche in the far reaches of the Solar System which is estimated to be four times the size of Jupiter, the Independent (UK) reports.
The orbit of Tyche (pronounced ty-kee) would be thousands of times further from the Sun than the Earth’s – in the outer Oort Cloud, the most remote region of the Solar System – which could explain why it has so far remained undiscovered.
Astrophysicists from the University of Louisiana believe the proof of its existence has already been gathered by a Nasa space telescope, Wise, and is just waiting to be analysed.
The first tranche of data is to be released in April, and astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire think it will reveal Tyche within two years. ” If it does, John and I will be doing cartwheels,” Professor Whitmire said. “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 -73ºC/-99.4ºF, as ‘it takes an object this size a long time to cool off.’
Most of the billions of objects in the Oort Cloud – a sphere one light year in radius stretching a quarter of the distance to Alpha Centauri, the brightest star in the southern constellation – are lumps of dirty ice at temperatures much closer to absolute zero (-273C).
The Independent reported that the two scientists proposed the theory of the existence of the planet to explain why many of the long-period comets were coming from the wrong direction.
In their latest paper, published in the February issue of Icarus, the international journal of solar system studies, they report that more than 20 per cent too many of the long-period comets observed since 1898 arrive from a band circling the sky at a higher angle than predicted by the galactic-tide theory.
No other proposal has been put forward to explain this anomaly since it was first suggested 12 years ago. But the Tyche hypothesis does have one flaw. Conventional theory holds that the gas giant should also dislodge comets from the inner Oort Cloud, but these have not been observed.
Professor Matese told the Independent that whether it would become the new 9th planet would be decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
The main argument against is that Tyche probably formed around another star and was later captured by the Sun’s gravitational field. The Astronomical Union may choose to create a whole new category for Tyche.
The IAU would also have the final say about the gas giant’s name. 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.
Her name was provisionally chosen in reference to an earlier hypothesis, that the Sun might be part of a binary star system with a dim companion, tentatively called Nemesis, that was thought responsible for mass extinctions on Earth. In myth, Tyche was the good sister of Nemesis. [via Independent (UK) and Daily Mail (UK)]