Scientists, telescope hunt massive hidden object in space
Some scientists think a brown dwarf or gas giant bigger than Jupiter could be at the outer reaches of the solar system. In this image showing relative size, the white object at the upper left edge represents the sun.
February 15th, 2011
09:03 AM ET

Scientists, telescope hunt massive hidden object in space

You know how you sometimes can sense that something is present even though you can't see it? Well, astronomers are getting that feeling about a giant, hidden object in space.

And when we say giant, we mean GIANT.

Evidence is mounting that either a brown dwarf star or a gas giant planet is lurking at the outermost reaches of our solar system, far beyond Pluto. The theoretical object, dubbed Tyche, is estimated to be four times the size of Jupiter and 15,000 times farther from the sun than Earth, according to a story in the British paper The Independent.

Astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette think data from NASA's infrared space telescope WISE will confirm Tyche's existence and location within two years.

The presence of such a massive object in the solar system's far-flung Oort Cloud could explain a barrage of comets from an unexpected direction, according to a December article at Space.com.

Its 27 million-year orbit could also explain a pattern of mass extinctions on Earth, scientists say.

Brown dwarfs are cold "failed" stars; their dimness and lack of heat radiation can make them hard to detect. Gas giants are huge planets like Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune that are made up of gases and may lack a solid surface like Earth's.

Whitmire told The Independent that Tyche will probably be composed of hydrogen and helium and have colorful spots, bands and clouds like Jupiter.

"You'd also expect it to have moons," he said. "All the outer planets have them."

Tyche was first hypothesized in 1984 as Nemesis, a dark companion star to the sun. It's been the subject of astronomical research and debate ever since. In July, another Space.com article said the celestial evidence suggests Tyche could not possibly exist.

To distinguish it from the Nemesis star theory, Matese and Whitmire are calling their object Tyche, after the good sister of the goddess Nemesis in Greek mythology.

Their research is published in Icarus, the International Journal of Solar System Studies.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,170 Responses)
  1. Joe

    My question is this. Why is it not visible if it's there? I understand that it is much farther away than Jupiter and the other outer planets, but I would still have thought that an extremely large object that was "relatively" close to us would be "visible" through our telescopes on one of the wavelengths , if not in the visible spectrum, the infrared ......?

    February 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete

    16 million years to go then

    February 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Brad

    Nemesis? Really? This is hardly a new theory. :\

    February 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jujubeans

    If it's that big, couldn't they do relatively simple calculations knowing the masses and orbits of all the planets?

    February 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny V

      Given the scale of its orbit, the hypothetical object would be significantly impacted by the gravity of other stars as well, which complicates the analysis for lack of data. This phenomenon is the very reason such an object was rejected as an explanation for the seemingly regular 27 million year extinction cycle that is evident in the Earth's fossil record; the object's orbit could not be influenced and yet so regular.

      February 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ernie Zippreplat

    Hot Dog, a new tax base for Obama!

    February 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. solomega

    Nibiru, man. Planet X, Nephilim–It's all there in "The 12th Planet".

    February 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny V

      Two words for you buddy... "Local Gravity". If you understand anything about physics you'll understand that this hypothetical object could never sustain life, for its local gravity would be STAGGERINGLY high, so as to crush anything on its surface.

      February 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • solomega

      two words for you Benny: Sar Casm. It was an attempt at a pre-emptive wink/jab towards the Zechariah Sitchin disciples out there. Since you clearly know a lot about physics can you explain how gravity works to me? I mean do you really think that it is an attractive force as in Newtonian theory, or is it a result of space time curvature, or perhaps as some suggest, an exchange of virtual gravitons? The theories all break down in very small spaces (quantum gravity), so, how does it work, really? I don't understand anything about physics–teach me.

      February 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • solomega

      that's what I thought. I hope Enki has mercy on you for your insolence when Nibiru swings by in 2012.

      February 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Benny V

      Hard to detect sarcasm when your post was almost entirely nouns, but alas I admit my error.

      As for gravity, you already know that I nor anyone else truly "understands" the mechanism by which it works, but I am familiar with those three theories, and their limitations at the quantum level. More importantly, you don't have to understand something to explain and predict its behavior if the relationships between the variables is well-defined, as with gravity and celestial bodies.

      February 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • solomega

      They were all nouns that you either didn't know or didn't understand the context–yet you opined. Your drive-by "fact" blast doesn't work here–try it somewhere else. I find it interesting that "you don't have to understand something to explain and predict its behavior", yet we have a lock on all possible beings in all possible environments. (?) If we don't understand one thing, maybe there is more that we don't understand. Like you say, if you understand anything about physics . . . then you'll know that the brightest minds in the last 150 years disagree on what you seem to be sure of. Be humble enough to allow for discovery. Every year in CNN Science, I am amazed at the articles that come out that say "what we just found out completely changes what we have assumed in the past". Every year, every scientific discipline–biology, chemistry, physics, etc.. A few years ago in these hallowed pages I read that the universe was not only finite, it was a dodecahedron. What fun! However amazed I am at the articles, I am more amazed at the comments by people ready to enlighten the unwashed masses. Benny, you seem like a bright guy–don't let it go to your head. And for fun–go read "The 12th Planet"– it's a hoot.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tom

    Ok – As a brown dwarf I take offense to the term. Nemisis? Really I have enough to deal with.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. snott

    not skeered.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chicken

    Is it Jimmy Hoffa?

    February 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. STEVE D

    Fifth Element... wasn't it some kinda of upside down pyramid thing, with those pin head dog looking things.. the
    chick with the Orange hair, was hot none the less

    February 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brad1001

    Shouldn't this thing have some kind of gravitational pull, cause a wobble in our solar systems' orbits or something? Sounds like some kind of wishful, "fund us please"! thinking to me.

    February 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. steve

    A new star in the solar system? Great. Now Jupiter will have to move into Saturn's room.

    February 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. daithi mac curtáin

    Since we're looking out from earth using the equivalent of contact lenses I'd say there's a whole lot out there that we don't know about .

    February 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Neil

    With objects like this and meteors and comets floating around in space, can people actually think we will go there? First of all we needs speeds unimaginable. But if we reach such speeds and hit even a small object, the impact will shatter any spaceship to a million pieces. Look in physics books for how much a force an impact with speeds approaching the kind of velocities we need to get to the closest stars in a resonable time.

    February 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rostse

    If they only asked me a hundred-thirty-six years ago.

    February 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
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