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

There is something out there, beyond Neptune - it is large and dense, affecting the orbit of dwarf planets just outside the Solar System.

"We can solve a lot of these problems just by taking into account that question".

In the new study, a group of scientists led by Ann-Marie Madigan of the University of Colorado at Boulder's (CU Boulder) Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS), propose the many TNOs in the outer solar system could be jostling one another much like bumper cars do. A hypothetical object revolves around the Sun in an elongated path (in inclined relative to Earth's orbit plane) with a period of 15 thousand years, and physico-chemical properties reminiscent of Neptune. How they got to the outer solar system on their own is an ongoing mystery. "There's a lot more stuff out there than we once thought, which is really cool".

Bodies in the extreme outer solar system that never come close enough to the Sun to be affected any any significant manner by the gravity of Neptune and the other major planets are known as "detached objects".

But instead, undergraduate astrophysics student Jacob Fleisig helped Dr Madigan envision all the different bodies outside the solar system chaotically crashing into one another.

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. The team compared the movements to the hands of a clock - smaller objects like asteroids move fast like minute hands, while the larger objects like Sedna move relatively slower, like hour hands. This means that the Kuiper belt objects might not exert enough gravity on each other for the orbital effects observed. "This cycle could wind up shooting comets toward the inner solar system-including in the direction of Earth-on a predictable timescale". Sedna itself was only discovered in 2003, while the second-largest (by volume) and most massive dwarf planet, Eris, was found in 2005. Their findings the researchers presented at the 232nd meeting of the American astronomical society.

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"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the sun", Fleisig said.

"These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interaction will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape". 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.

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

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.

The gravitational interactions among TNOs may also explain another unusual event: the extinction of the nonavian dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

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