The outer solar system is a weird place full of strange things that show strange behavior. Researchers are still trying to find out how all these mysteries fit together, leading to hypotheses like the presence of a so-called Planet 9 that causes chaos on otherwise organized paths.
But an important part of the outer solar system puzzle does not make & # 39; t need a ninth planet to make the numbers work, according to research presented at the annual conference of the American Astronomical Society held this week in Denver. (That does not mean that Planet 9 exists, though.)
That research focused on what researchers call "stand-alone objects", large bodies that are far beyond Neptune, nearly 8 billion miles from the sun. Usually, things that wander so far away are still swinging by the sun. But independent objects have such giant circular paths as they never do. It is one of the mysteries that inspired the planet 9 hypothesis in the first place.
The detached object researchers have discovered so far, all are quite big smaller than the moon, but still big enough to form a rather regular sphere rather than the odd-shaped forms of the asteroids. We have not found very many yet, just a handful, which makes them study a little bit harder.
They are surrounded by a large number of much, much smaller companions called trans-Neptunian objects. No one had really looked at all these movements at once. "This seems like a very obvious thing to do," said Ann-Marie Madigan, an astrophysician at the University of Colorado Boulder who led the research Newsweek . "It should have been done before, but they are very expensive computer calculations."
Then she and a doctoral student, Jacob Fleisig, did it and modeled about 400 objects. And when Fleisig looked at models of his movements, he saw something strange: All the little trans-Dupontic objects have tracked researchers call a lot of elliptical, stretched out to a long, thin oval rather than circular. In each of these ways the sun is gone to the center.
When the object travels in its orbit along the edge of the spin, the path also circles around the sun ̵
And it turns out that when the small trans-Dupontic objects make this long dance, the heaviness of the relatively large objects comes to each other in such a way as the paths themselves collapse on one side, like a flower that lost most of its petals, except for a small patch.
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The model suggested that when the celestial imbalance builds up strong enough, the overall gravity of all small objects can be strong enough to affect a large, kick it into the super large circular circulation and make it a standalone object.
But it's a bit more complicated than that: The model also showed that the collective gravity effect can turn it around, pull an exposed object from its giant lane and back to a road that carries it quite close to the sun.
Despite the exciting model results, Madigan said it's way too early to make sure this really is happening at the edge of our solar system. This is because the astronomers have not identified enough independent objects yet to build particular authoritative models.
"There is a very small number that we have actually discovered," Madigan said a little more than half a dozen. We can never know how many are actually out there until someone can put a speech on how difficult they are to discover. But she is suspected it's about how to find these independent objects, not if there are more to find.
"By definition, they are extremely difficult to detect," she said. "It suggests to me that there is a large reservoir of free-standing objects out there, and we will discover more and more of them when our telescope is improved." If that's possible, she can ever have data to know for sure.
While explaining the independent pathways that this mechanism tackles is one of the main motivations for the Planet 9 hypothesis, Madigan was careful to say her team results. I lose some light if there is another planet that lurks out there as we have not seen yet. "We can not explain everything in the outer solar system," Madigan said, including some of the other mysteries Planet 9 is trying to solve. "This is just a really natural way to explain detached objects."