Is the Mysterious Planet Nine Just a Swarm of Asteroids?

The dwarf planets and other icy bodies out there move in mysterious ways that suggest an unseen world is pulling on them, but new calculations suggest that there is no Planet Nine - these distant objects might just be jostling each other like bumper cars. Sedna circles the sun at a distance of almost 8 billion miles and doesn't even come near solar system's giant planets.

"There are so many of these bodies out there", says Anne-Marie Madigan, co-author of the new study. This minor planet orbits Earth's sun at a distance of 8 billion miles but appears separated from the rest of the solar system.

Dr Madigan added: "The picture we draw of the outer solar system in textbooks may have to change".

"He came into my office one day and says, 'I'm seeing some really cool stuff here, '" Madigan said.

Dwarf planet Sedna and other, smaller TNOs have orbits very different and detached from those of most solar system bodies.

The hypothesis of the existence of a ninth planet was first put forward in 2012, when Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo, two scientists from the Carnegie Institution of Science and Northern Arizona University, discovered several celestial bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune (the so-called trans-Neptunian objects, or Tno), composed mainly of rocks, ice and solid methane.

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 freakish orbits. This means that the Kuiper belt objects might not exert enough gravity on each other for the orbital effects observed.

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An artist's rendering of Sedna, which looks reddish in color in telescope images.

Speaking at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Jacob Fleisig of the University of Colorado at Boulder presented a tantalizing new bit of research.

According to the researchers' simulations, the TNOs move like hands on a clock, with the most massive objects moving slowly, like the hour hand, and the smaller ones ticking along quickly, like the minute hand. "This cycle could wind up shooting comets toward the inner solar system-including in the direction of Earth-on a predictable timescale".

"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".

This swarm of asteroids may also be able to mess with the orbits of comets and other asteroids, and under the right conditions (researchers estimate roughly every 30 million years) the rogue asteroid in question will end up on a collision course with Earth. 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.

"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the sun", said Fleisig, who is the lead author of the new research.

A new theory put forward by scientists can both explain this unusual behaviour of dwarf planets as well as possibly explain the fate of dinosaurs, notes the report.

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