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back to article X marks the... They SAID there was a mystery planet there – NASA

Boffins have long hypothesised the existence of a large, but thus far unseen, celestial body in our Solar System, somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto, but NASA's WISE survey has found no sign of the mysterious "Planet X". A nearby star stands out in red in this image from the Second Generation Digitized Sky Survey by WISE …

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Joke

I never knew...

Uranus was a gas giant...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I never knew...

Funny, my wife has known that for years...

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Headmaster

Re: I never knew...

It's not, it's an ice giant.

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Re: I never knew...

Well then, you'd better tell it it's late for Ragnarok.

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Coat

Looking for Planet X?

They need to ask...

DUCK DODGERS in the 24th and a half CENTURY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqAUiUDyFlY

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Re: Looking for Planet X?

That's why we can't find Planet X, because Daffy and Marvin blew it up back in the 1950s!!

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A-Ha!

A medium-mass black hole!

Very convenient for sucking hyperdrives out of passing spaceships.

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Happy

Re: A-Ha!

Very convenient for sucking hyperdrives out of passing spaceships.

Beowulf Shaeffer to the rescue!

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Re: A-Ha!

Define "medium". SGR A* is about 6 order of magnitudes more massive than the Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit. That would make "medium" ~3000M.

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Headmaster

Re: A-Ha!

Don't name drop and don't be boring!

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Alien

Nibiru

Maybe they should ask the ancient Sumarians for directions!

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93 million miles

is roughly 149 million km. Not 1.49 billion.

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1.49597871 × 10^15m

... is about 1/6 of a light year, if it helps any.

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Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

Blah, blah blah... but what is that in Register Units? :)

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Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

Hmm ... Register Units?

About 8 mReg?

(Being 8/1000 of the distance from here to Regulus. Although mysteriously, the Register-star is in the constellation of Leo (probably eating its entrails...), and will be obscured by 163 Erigone on the morning of March 20th - expect articles to go missing or be delayed around that time.)

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Happy

Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

How many brontosaurus's is that?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/24/vulture_central_standards/

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Headmaster

Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

How many grocer's apostrophes? Brontosauruses or brontosauri, please.

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Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

I was at a meeting of our local astronomical society last night, and one of our esteemed members (who holds a PhD, no less) gave us a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Galaxy's."

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Headmaster

Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m, @Martin Budden

In pursuit of true pedantry, let me assert that your corrigendum should have contained "grocers' apostrophes" rather than "grocer's", since there is definitely more than one of them at it.

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Holmes

> WISE was unable to spot any object the size of Saturn or larger

What about less massive planets? Surely celestial bodies in the Neptune-Mercury range can stir the Oort Cloud up a bit. Can WISE not detect smaller objects?

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There are probably plenty more dwarf planets in the oort cloud, of a size smaller or similar to Pluto. However, a rock of that size really isn't going to stir up the oort cloud in any way given that the effects of gravity fall off exponentially and that the oort cloud is ABSOLUTELY HUGE.

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Dwarf planets

+1 to Psyx.

However, I believe the theory as to how the Oort cloud formed, and therefore what it is composed of, precludes objects that large existing in any great number.

There are likely such objects in the inner Oort region* but I believe the area of interest is the outer Oort Cloud as the data that pointed to this hypothetical planet's existence was based on long period comets originating in the (outer) Oort Cloud.

It is my understanding that the Oort Cloud consists almost entirely of small comets flung out during the creation of the solar system and if such a large planet/dwarf star were to exist, it would have been captured, rather than flung out.

Does that sound right? It's all hypothetical anyway as we can't detect anything smaller/dimmer than about Jupiter out there anyway!

* - Well, by definition, there must be as it was proposed to exist to accommodate the dwarf planet Sedna when it was realised that it was too far out to be part of the Kuiper Belt but too close in to be part of the (hypothetical) Oort Cloud.

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Headmaster

Bzzt. Power law, not exponential!

> the effects of gravity fall off exponentially

As any fule kno, gravity obeys an inverse square law, F = GMm/r^2

If it was exponential, it would have some constant k to the power of r in the denominator.

Sorry to nitpick, but 'exponential' has a useful exact meaning which is literally diluted by using it wrongly.

:)

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Alien

Of course it's not there-

It swanned off to Alderaan...

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We don't know our own Sun's backyard...

I seem to recall something about the circumference of ignorance, said by someone whose words were worth listening to.

In any case, I feel that scientific progress in astronomy is an exciting field these days. In 2000, we thought planetary systems were rather scarce. Since then, we've had confirmation that at least one-third of the systems that we have surveyed have planets in them. We've gone from hypothesizing Earth-like planets to actually finding planets in the Goldilocks zone.

Now we realize that our "backyard" is bigger than we thought it was ? No problem, we'll work that out too. It should provide a good learning experience as well, teach us how to survey and map a system for when we arrive at a new solar system - sometime in this millennia or the next.

Exciting times !

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We don't know our own Sun's backyard...

"Now we realize that our "backyard" is bigger than we thought it was?"

How long before we start finding the bodies under the patio? A black hole in the "backyard" could have a serious effect on the desirability and market value of our solar system!

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Headmaster

Re: We don't know our own Sun's backyard...

No it does not. That is not how black holes work. Look it up. Their effect on the neighborhood is no different to a star or planet. They just have the size to go with their name.

As a thought experiment, try getting stuck in (or proposing the earth get effected by) a black hole. Try it. Propose any means you wish. You may find some small problems actually achieving it.

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Joke

Shirley they Oort to know one way or the other.

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Devil

This is serious

and don't call me Shirley again

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Boffin

Well, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be a Nemisis star...

Since from what I understand, Earth was due for another Nemisis-induced mass extinction in a few million years. I'd think that a smaller planet would also be a risk of upsetting the potential comments of the Oort cloud though.

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Re: Well, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be a Nemisis star...

Well in this here article :

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/03/05/dark_matter_killed_the_dinosaurs_boffins_suggest/

If correct, we might not have to wait so very long.

Pity that "stuff" is so tricky to put an X-mark on.

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Thumb Up

Re: Well, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be a Nemisis star...

The extinctions are still there, but not being caused by Planet X. Only reasonable thing to do is to assume the next one will happen, but for a currently unknown reason.

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Re: Well, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be a Nemisis star...

"I'd think that a smaller planet would also be a risk of upsetting the potential comments of the Oort cloud though."

Luckily, the rocks have a pretty good founding in physics and know that a small planet is not going to plough through widely scattered debris in a sphere over a light year in diameter and cause anything approaching chaos, because small planets don't have much gravity and the oort cloud isn't some kind of Star Wars asteroid field with rocks every 200m.

Seriously: The Oort cloud is far larger with far less debris than you think it is.

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Re: Well, I'm glad there doesn't seem to be a Nemisis star...

"I'd think that a smaller planet would also be a risk of upsetting the potential comments of the Oort cloud though."

It's okay - nothing in the Oort cloud has an account on the El Reg forum.

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Anonymous Coward

@VinceH

Who do you think AC is?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @VinceH

I for one have absolutely no idea who Anonymous Coward is.

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Re: @VinceH

"Who do you think AC is?"

I've no idea, but Oort doesn't begin with A.

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What it is right...

Is there's an ENORMOUS John Virgo out there and he's circling outside the solar system, looking for the best way to pot the blue. He'll whip out his giant cue and take his shot when he's ready and confident that he'll get it in.

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Headmaster

Re: What it is right...

Or Johnny Vegas or the FSM, its still in peer review stage.

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Rob
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Re: What it is right...

There is only one pool god, prince of the planet potters and his name is Dave Lister.

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Re: What it is right...

Is it bad I read that as John "Crichton"? Ok, too much of a sci-fi head on me. :P

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farscape for reference.

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Nibiru - Niburu whatever

The conspiracy nuts are probably already screaming CONSPIRACY!

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Re: Nibiru - Niburu whatever

Conspiracy nuts who scream CONSPIRACY?

I call shenanigans!

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Planet X can probably be retired now we have the new catch-all of Dark Matter to blame for everything...

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25177-did-dark-matter-kill-the-dinosaurs-maybe.html#.Ux3a-HV_sic

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Trollface

Orbiting trollface

You do need to start looking closer to home, dear!

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Don't see how this helps any

One thing the Nemesis hypothesis has always been very clear on is the size of the orbit - in order to get the period right it needs a semi-major axis of around 95,000 AU. These chaps can make meaningful assertions up to only 42% of that distance and less than 7.5% of the volume of space, and this is somehow "proof"?

Yes, Nemesis is unlikely but it is a legitimate minority opinion, dismissing it as crackpot science is in itself a demonstration of scientific ignorance, since the whole idea is surprisingly and annoyingly difficult to conclusively disprove. In their eagerness to "prove" the falsehood of the theory they are guilty of far worse junk science.

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Re: Don't see how this helps any

But a star that close to the Sun, even if it is class Y brown dwarf it would have showed up like a bright beacon to the IRAS and/or ISO missions, let alone any of the terrestrial IR-sensitive telescopes. Also the theoretical orbital parameters for Nemesis (consistent with the extinction pattern) has been worked out a long time ago, and we know in what part of the sky we should be looking, but nothing is there!

BTW, the extinction pattern data is based on a very small sample set that is statistically not significant. Basically the uncertainties outweigh the conclusions.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Don't see how this helps any

... but presumably the proposed Nemesis is supposed to have a highly elliptical orbit? In which case - assuming it isn't currently at/near an extrema, the liklihood of spotting it might be higher, although of course it's slower moving out there and less likely to dwell in range. Also, might it not be likely to share the same orbital plane as the (inner) Oort cloud? - perhaps relaxing your 0.4^3~=0.07 to about ~ .4^2 ~= 0.16.

While the authors may well be over confident, it seems to me that without further detail, your 0.4^3 is perhaps to be a rather too stringent a bound on probability.

(correctlions/clarifications welcome)

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Re: Don't see how this helps any

"These chaps can make meaningful assertions up to only 42% of that distance "

Re: WISE: "a Jupiter-mass object out to 1 light year (63,000 AU), where it would still be within the Sun's zone of gravitational control. A larger object of 2–3 Jupiter masses would be visible at a distance of up to 7–10 light years."

So... we should have found it. More to the point, we should have noted some - any - kind of other evidence. We haven't. And we've looked several times. That's not 'eagerness to throw out a theory' at all.

"the whole idea is surprisingly and annoyingly difficult to conclusively disprove."

Lack of evidence is not evidence. It is impossible to prove that something undetectable does not exist, as atheists have been banging their head against the wall trying to explain for decades. However, all of our best surveys can't find it, nobody has ever spotted it with a telescope, nobody has ever found any gravitic influence that could be attributed to it in modern times, and the best reasoning for its existence is a rough collaboration with the time of extinction events... which might or might not all be related to rocks falling from the sky.

Nemesis remains a fringe theory because zero evidence has been turned up in its favour. And it will rightfully remain a fringe theory.

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Re: Don't see how this helps any

a Jupiter-mass object out to 1 light year (63,000 AU), where it would still be within the Sun's zone of gravitational control. A larger object of 2–3 Jupiter masses would be visible at a distance of up to 7–10 light years."

Is that the sum total of your evidence? Quoting Wikipedia verbatim about the technical capabilities of WISE, rather than what is has actually been used for to date?

In other words you are completely ignoring the work that the WISE team have done, which they have announced now, restricting their claims to what may legitimately be claimed based on that work. Instead you have substituted what WISE is theoretically capable of, as if once you have the instrument you don't even need to turn it on to observe the null result. That isn't a scientifically robust argument, you wouldn't even accept that in everyday conversation.

Nemesis remains a fringe theory because zero evidence has been turned up in its favour. And it will rightfully remain a fringe theory.

You are overlooking several factors here. Firstly you choose to ignore the fossil evidence that led to the hypothesis being proposed in the first instance. You ignore the geological evidence to the same effect - sure it is a little sketchy but it is highly suggestive. You are completely ignoring the fact it has been published repeatedly in peer reviewed journals. You ignore that process of expert review, who concluded the theory had merit in order for it to be published, because you know better than them.

So, you ignore or dismiss evidence that is contrary to your position. You throw in irrelevant factors that do nothing to support your case as if they were final trump cards. You ignore the opinions of experts. Those are the hallmarks of a scientifically illiterate crackpot theory, not a properly published, legitimate proposal. Just because the theory naturally appeals to the "end of the world is nigh" brigade doesn't make it any less credible.

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