New Dwarf Planet Research Says the Enigmatic 'Planet 9' May Not Exist After All
Evidence has been piling up for the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system, but no one has directly observed this supposedly super-Earth-sized body yet—instead, we've only seen its strange effects on the orbits of comets, asteroids, and other TNOs (Trans-Neptunian Objects).
Now, new research from the University of Colorado argues that there might not be a planet out there at all—just a swarm of asteroids whose collective might adds up to something in the weight class of a planet.
What's intriguing about this new "asteroid swarm" hypothesis is that it may prove that the Chicxulub asteroid (which ended up impacting Earth and wiping out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago) wasn't an accident—it was part of a 30-million-year pattern that may spell doom for humanity.
The new research revolves around observations of the dwarf planet Sedna, one of the most distant celestial bodies ever discovered.
Sedna's eccentric orbit has been cited as evidence that another, larger planet's gravity must be nudging it off-kilter somewhere along its path, and the mysterious Planet Nine is usually assumed to be responsible.
However, the research from the University of Colorado team shows that a traveling clump of asteroids might be able to modulate the orbit of other TNOs with their combined gravity—according to undergrad Jacob Fleisig:
"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the sun. These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interactions 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. "While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs, it's tantalizing," says Fleisig.
Luckily for us, NASA already has plans to help deal with another Chicxulub-scale event. All they need is a few million dollars, a lot of spaceships, some nuclear weapons, and a few decades of advance warning.