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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  1. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Joke

    I never knew...

    Uranus was a gas giant...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I never knew...

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

    2. Wilseus
      Headmaster

      Re: I never knew...

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

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: I never knew...

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

  2. Graham Marsden
    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

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      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!!

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    A-Ha!

    A medium-mass black hole!

    Very convenient for sucking hyperdrives out of passing spaceships.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: A-Ha!

      Very convenient for sucking hyperdrives out of passing spaceships.

      Beowulf Shaeffer to the rescue!

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      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.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: A-Ha!

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

  4. Aqua Marina Silver badge
    Alien

    Nibiru

    Maybe they should ask the ancient Sumarians for directions!

  5. Thomas Gray

    93 million miles

    is roughly 149 million km. Not 1.49 billion.

  6. Paul Kinsler

    1.49597871 × 10^15m

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

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

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

      1. Paul Kinsler

        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.)

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

          How many brontosaurus's is that?

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

          1. Martin Budden
            Headmaster

            Re: 1.49597871 × 10^15m

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

            1. Wilseus

              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."

            2. proto-robbie
              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.

  7. ammabamma
    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?

    1. Psyx

      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.

      1. dan1980

        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.

      2. Jonathan Richards 1
        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.

        :)

  8. hplasm Silver badge
    Alien

    Of course it's not there-

    It swanned off to Alderaan...

  9. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    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 !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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!

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        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.

  10. Scott Broukell
    Joke

    Shirley they Oort to know one way or the other.

    1. Mtech25
      Devil

      This is serious

      and don't call me Shirley again

  11. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    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.

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge

      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.

    2. Sander van der Wal
      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.

    3. Psyx

      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.

    4. VinceH Silver badge

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @VinceH

        Who do you think AC is?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @VinceH

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

        2. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: @VinceH

          "Who do you think AC is?"

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

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: What it is right...

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

    2. Rob

      Re: What it is right...

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

    3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      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.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nibiru - Niburu whatever

    The conspiracy nuts are probably already screaming CONSPIRACY!

    1. AbelSoul

      Re: Nibiru - Niburu whatever

      Conspiracy nuts who scream CONSPIRACY?

      I call shenanigans!

  14. Neil 8

    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

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Trollface

      Orbiting trollface

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

  15. mad physicist Fiona

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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)

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: Don't see how this helps any

        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...

        Orbital mechanics have the effect that the closer in a body to whatever it is orbiting the faster it travels, before slowing down as it moves further away from that body again - if you think about it it's simple conservation of energy, as kinetic energy is traded for potential and vice versa. The net effect is that arguing for a highly elliptical orbit pushes out the average distance at any given time quite considerably, since the body spend most of its time traveling slowly through the more distant part of its orbit, before quickly sweeping through the closer portion and returning to a greater distance.

        In any event, for the theory to hold it almost needs the reverse, while the orbit doesn't have to be perfectly circular it can't be highly eccentric. The projected orbit is huge - a radius of 1½ light years. The more eccentric it becomes the further the hypothetical body moves away from the Sun at it's outermost limit and if it gets too far the Sun ceases to be gravitationally dominant. Even if in one particular pass it doesn't come close enough to anything else to be perturbed out of orbit, you would expect precession of the argument of perihelion over cosmological time, which would have the effect of flinging it out in a slightly different direction on each orbit. That increases the chances of an eccentrically orbiting body being lost forever.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: assuming it isn't currently at/near an extrema

        Given they've got the orbit worked out they also know based on the extinction events where on the orbit the planet ought to be. So you don't have to do a whole sky survey. If those calculations show it outside the range of experimental observation, there would have been no point in conducting the exercise in the first place, at least vis-a-vie testing the Nemesis hypothesis.

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