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No need for Planet Nine? Small objects’ gravity could explain weird orbits

07 June 2018

University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor Ann-Marie Madigan and a team of researchers have offered up a new theory for the existence of planetary oddities like Sedna. 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. "We can solve a lot of these problems by just taking into account that question", she explained.

Some TNOs are "detached objects", which orbit so far from the sun that they're not appreciably affected by the gravity of Neptune or any other known planet.

They believe that the trajectory of detached TRANS-Neptunian objects can talk about asteroid collision, and not about the gravitational effect of the proposed ninth planet.

A team of researchers have published a new theory explaining why objects on the edge of the Solar System like Sedna - classified as a large minor planet - have such weird, giant circular orbits. The key evidence was the highly eccentric orbits of some Kuiper Belt objects, which are tilted 30 degrees off-kilter from the rest of the planets. There is also a theory that suggests unseen ninth planet lurking beyond Neptune may have kicked up the orbits of these detached objects.

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Madigan and team weren't exactly looking to explain the odd orbits of these bodies, but when Jacob Fleisig, the lead author of the study, ran a series of simulations to study the dynamics of these bodies, they were totally surprised. They outlined their research at the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Denver, Colorado.

This research was supported by NASA Solar System Workings and the Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium Summit Supercomputer.

The natural process is that massive minor planets are naturally detached by the interaction of different gravities from the objects. Sedna itself was only discovered in 2003, while the second-largest (by volume) and most massive dwarf planet, Eris, was found in 2005. Using the simulations, they had calculated that the orbits of icy objects beyond Neptune circle the sun like the hands of a clock.

"You see a pileup of the orbits of smaller objects to one side of the sun", says Jacob Fleisig, lead author of the study. "These orbits crash into the bigger body (a large TNO, not a gas giant), and what happens is those interactions will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape", he said.

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Repeated interaction cycles among large and small TNOs may be responsible for pushing comets into the inner solar system on regular timescales.

These bumper car-like interactions can explain numerous anomalies out there, without needing to invent a huge Planet Nine. But because the largest objects are hurled into the most eccentric orbits, they become more hard to find, the researchers said. "While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs, it's tantalizing", says Fleisig.

The findings may also provide clues around another phenomenon: the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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No need for Planet Nine? Small objects’ gravity could explain weird orbits