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November 29, 2010

Dark Jupiter size object probably lurks at the edge of the Solar System

In a new analysis of observations dating back to 1898, Matese and Whitmire confirm their original idea: About 20 percent of the comets visible from Earth were sent by a dark, distant planet.

After examining the orbits of more than 100 comets in the Minor Planet Center database, the researchers concluded that 80 percent of comets born in the Oort Cloud were pushed out by the galaxy’s gravity. The remaining 20 percent, however, needed a nudge from a distant object about 1.4 times the mass of Jupiter.

The pattern only works for comets that come from the spherical outer Oort Cloud, which extends from about 0.3 to 0.8 light-years from the sun. Comets from the flatter, more donut-shaped inner Oort Cloud don’t create the same distinctive pattern



“I think this whole issue will be resolved in the next 5 to 10 years, because there’s surveys coming on line … that will dwarf the comet sample we have today,” he said. “Whether these types of asymmetries in the directions that comets are coming from actually do exist or not will definitely be hammered out by those surveys.”

We may not have to wait that long, Matese says. An object like Tyche could be seen directly by WISE, NASA’s infrared space telescope.

“We anticipate that this WISE is going to falsify or verify our conjecture,” he said. “We just have to be patient.”

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