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. amoeba

    Accepting the therory that all living things evolved. Who or what put the original speck of whatever in place to begin the process. If everything has to have a logical begining and end, then how do you answer that fundemental question?

    February 15, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Denizen Kate

      At this time, that question is not answerable. It's a very good question, though, which is why scientists strive to answer it.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Hitchhiker

      The answer is "42".

      February 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BethG

    Wow! Something that could possibly make a huge difference in our understanding of our universe and, as usual, it turns into an opportunity to condemn those who think differently than we do. Nothing says more about how far we have come as a species than this! Does anyone have anything of value to contribute here?

    February 15, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • James in Arizona

      The sky is not blue...it's sky blue.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ObiWan

    Trust your feelings, Luke

    February 15, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Han #67

    Laugh it UP fuzzball!

    February 15, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Frank Garrett

    Awwwwwwww fuggew

    February 15, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. bitterjack

    Wasn't there some astronomer in the Middle Ages that said there was another planet out there?

    February 15, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. Joe

    Some of the media have been a bit cavalier with the information, stating that Matese & Whitmire a 'sure' there's something there. We interviewed Matese: http://ultoday.com/node/3076
    He's VERY careful with his words, and emphasized, repeatedly, that none of this is proven yet.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jeffrey Root

    Space science is the coolest! Humans are capable of doing so much yet we hold ourselves back because we can't learn to share. We would be traveling the solar system by now if the world was a more peaceful place. There is so much more to learn than just what we find on Earth. Earth is just one planet in the universe. There could be trillions of planets out there. physics is why we move.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Heh

    There have been tons of mass extinctions, go read a book.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. smiley

    I want to thank the cast and crew of Star Wars for the entertainment this morning.......

    February 15, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. JRR

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

    Are we near the 27 millionth year?

    February 15, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Nah, you missed it, it was 2 years ago, there was a big party and everything.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. Trevv

    HAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. macjones

    "Scientists say", "Five out of six scientists recommend". LOL

    February 15, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Porkins

    Almost there..... !

    February 15, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Trevv

    i like eggs

    February 15, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
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