Forget Pluto; hello possible new planet Tyche
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 00:02
Pluto may have lost its planet status, but scientists believe another gas giant could be lurking on the outskirts of our solar system.
The evidence to support the possibility of a new celestial body within our solar system comes from two astrophysicists at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, John Matese and Daniel Whitmire.
Matese said that he and Whitmire asserted that "there was an ‘unusual' aspect to the observed pattern, affecting 20 percent of the comets coming from the Oort Cloud."
The Oort Cloud is hypothesized to be a large mass of comets about one light year from the sun and is the origin of many of the comets that fly through our solar system.
So, in other words, Matese and Whitmire observed that the orbit of these rogue comets was consistent with the presence of a "Jupiter mass solar companion" making its orbit through the cloud.
"Tyche" – that's what the possible planet has been named – supposedly threw off the comets' orbits as they passed close to its gravitational field.
Matese and Whitmire have been searching for conclusive evidence to prove Tyche exists since their first observation of the comets' strange behavior in 1999.
"What is new is that since then, is that this unusual aspect has persisted, and the likelihood that it is a statistical fluke has lessened," Matese said.
Matese said no alternate evidence has been put forward to explain the patterns in the comets and if it exists, Tyche would be about 3000 times further from the sun than Jupiter.
"It would not have formed in our planetary disk, but most likely would have been captured in the complex environment where our Sun was born," Matese said.
"As such, the [International Astronomical Union] might choose not to use the term ‘planet' for such an object."
According to him, the object would likely be called a "giant planet" or an "ultra cool dwarf."
Dominique Thompson, a music performance major from Clinton, Miss. said the possible existence of another planet is not that important to him.
"When Pluto lost its status as a planet, it wasn't that significant to me either," said Thompson.
Thompson said astronomy, in general, has never been something he was very interested in following, but he is able to name all the planets with no problem at all.
"I use a mnemonic device to remember them all, but I guess now that'll have to change," Thompson said.
The scientists believe the planet is a gas giant, mostly composed of hydrogen and helium, like Jupiter. Also, like Jupiter, Tyche is believed to be ringed and surrounded by moons.
If scientists find conclusive evidence of Tyche's existence, it will be, by far, the largest planet in the solar system, nearly four times the size of Jupiter.
Mandy Deese said, "It's interesting that something like a planet so much bigger than the biggest one in our solar system could exist and we've only just found it."
Deese, a senior from Marianna, Fla. said she hadn't really followed the news around Tyche, but she planned to do so after hearing about it.
"I don't know that we can ever know about everything that's out there."
Tyche, in Greek mythology, is the goddess of fortune and prosperity of cities. She oversaw city's destinies and can essentially be seen guardian of luck.
Matese and Whitmire could use some of that luck in finding out if the gas giant on the edge of the solar system is really there.