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. guitarharry

    Thanks for putting it in perspective, Phoenix59; most people's image of space comes from old Star Trek episodes, so they have no real idea of the scale of things. Even if this object does exist, the odds of it having pushed a comet on a collision course with Earth a couple of thousand years ago are microscopically small. And the odds of such a comet collision with Earth in our lifetime is even smaller. And if a comet WAS on a collision course, all our technology would not save us (despite what Hollywood tells us) We do not have the ability to quickly mount nuclear weapons on massive (non-existant) rockets that can go millions of miles out in space–by the time we noticed the comet, it would be WAY too late. Stop worrying about this stuff, people. We have bigger problems right here, right now.

    February 16, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. George

    A brown dwarf? Damn it! Let's hope Smaug returns from death to kill this little rat and save us all!

    February 16, 2011 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sutler

    I say we dub this new object in space....HAL.

    February 16, 2011 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. anonymous

    Those 2012 nuts are gonna love this

    February 16, 2011 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. HOLY HANDGRENADE

    I love it when a science article discussion deteriorates into monte python quotes..

    February 16, 2011 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Amy

    Meep!!! OMG THIS IS AWESOME!!! So now what do we do? 😀

    February 16, 2011 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bill

    A brown dwarf. Ha! Who came up with that name?

    February 16, 2011 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nelson

    Can someone say "Niburu" ? Planet X

    February 16, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. MANPRAYER

    Niburu

    February 16, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. Hitchhiker

    I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

    February 16, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  11. Hitchhiker

    I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

    February 16, 2011 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  12. Yup

    AND SO IT BEGINS.....

    BUCKLE UP FOLKS!

    February 16, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. Sunspot

    Come on, CNN, you still have the heading "Another planet in the Solar System" on your front page. That is simply not true. You are lying to your readers, and a respected news organization shouldn't do that. This report is very preliminary. The planet has not been detected by any means and there is no good evidence that it even exists. Even the two "researchers", who are not connected to NASA in any way, admit this. So why can't you get the story right???
    This is why so many people distrust the Main Stream Media – we know that you don't always bother to get the story right. And when someone points it out, you obviously don't care.

    February 16, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. demonfeed

    You guys act suprised that they think there is something right in front of us that we can't see 😉 As far as what the object is, I can't wait to find out. I think it could be totally possible that there is an exoplanet in the Oort Cloud. With that many objects surrounding it, it may not get any sunlight or extremely minute amounts, which could account for us not seeing it before.

    February 16, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  15. Yup

    ALL HAIL ANU!!!!!!

    February 16, 2011 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
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