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. ADiff

    Clyde Tombaugh expressed the opinion that such an object existed long ago. He had looked for it for decades since his discovery of Pluto, but had yet to find it. But he was convinced it was there. He interpreted the rotational behaviors of the outer planets, and the apparent periodicity of entries of Oort Cloud objects into the inner Solar System as suggestive of its presence. While none of this conclusively supported the presence of such an object (other explanations for these observations are also possible) he remain during his last years completely convinced "something really big" was "out there" past the orbit of Neptune and Pluto. I discussed the subject with him on several social occasions in the early 80s, prior to any publicity about 'Nemesis'. So while the authors of the Nemesis hypothesis deserve credit for their idea that such object might be related to apparent comet periodicity, they can't be credited with precedence of the idea of the existence of a gas giant or brown dwarf in the outer Solar System. Clyde should get some credit for this idea, well prior to 1984. I know I discussed his belief such an object existed as early as 1982, and it was obvious it wasn't at all a new idea for him at all at that time.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Clark Nova

      Is that you, Dave?

      February 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sally Li

    Pluto, of course, is a planet, it has an atmosphere, at least one moon, a relatively powerful gravitational field, and may have an electromagnetic belt around it as well. The size of the planet has been estimated variously as being a little smaller than the Earth's Moon, to about the size of Earth, and considering the extreme distance of the planet from Earth, it is bound to be difficult to get an accurate idea of the true size, and verify it. The closer an object is to the point of observation, the more accurate the estimate or measure of its true size.
    The entire motive for trying to "debunk" Pluto's planetary status is jealousy of American science, by Europe.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      Not really. The arguments Pluto should be categorized differently than the inner planets make a lot of sense too. While I always personally supported retaining its 'planetary' status out of affection for its discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, the arguments to the contrary were not, and are not, just political. By the way, if you've noted my earlier comments, Clyde hypothesized the presence of such an object as this much earlier than the popularization of the idea of a "Nemesis" planet in 1984. I know I personally discussed his belief such a large mass was present in the far outer Solar System as early as 1982, when he indicated it wasn't then a recent idea for him. He told me he'd been looking for it was quite some time already.

      I'd love to see his hypothesis confirmed on that count. And Clyde should get credit for his earlier formulation of such idea, too.

      February 19, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Graham

    Neptune was discovered in 1846 on mathematical prediction based on observations of Uranus' orbital path. Although the discovery of Neptune explained much of the perturbation of the Uranus it did not explain it all or the perturbation of Neptune itself. Locating Tyche may solve the statistical anomoly however it would bring other questions in regards to the inner and outer Oort Cloud, where Tyche supposedly will be located, as the interactions between the two do not substantiate this theory. It would seem likely that this object could have been found mathematically by now unless there were multiple variables, such as the possibilty of multiple Tyche like objects yet undiscovered. Time will tell, it will be interesting to find out what they discover.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      Those are among the reasons Clyde Tombaugh cited in a conversation I had with him in 1982 when he expressed to me his belief "something really big" was "out there" in the outer reaches of the Solar System, and that he'd been looking for it "for years". I'd love to see his "something really big" finally found.

      February 19, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    It's simple folks...the planet circles the sun in the Oort cloud, it stirs it up and sends comets and asteroids into the inner solar system. The 27 million years comes from the examination of fossil records and past extinctions on the planet earth.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. Grammy

    Get a map of the solar system and look at the sizes of the planets from tiny mercury through Venus, Earth and Mars. The "asteroid" belt. Then Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and pluto. The size goes from small to large and back down to small. Not assorted sizes, but very symetrical. Conclusion: Doubltful....I'm going with the scientists who say no.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. George

    Yet again, another story of millions of dollars of research and development and for what? How about we stop worrying about our "doom" and start focusing on our current economic situation. Lets pull NASA funding and gain control of this debt.

    February 19, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. rick worth

    its just modern science catching up to what the ancients knew and have been trying to warn us about or remind us for centuries. from the sumarians the egyptions and world religion accounts. remember the earth was once believed flat and all the planets and sun revolved around the earth. all past cultures knew betterthan this. so modern science is just starting to catch up to the past. lets see how much disinformation springs from this story. its nibiru.

    February 19, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. Junol

    We'll wait and see. Mayans might have been just right.

    February 19, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. Nicholas Amann

    brown dwarf star? 4 times the size of jupiter? Come on CNN you not falling for the nibiru crap are you for shame

    February 19, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Richard Allen

    It's definitely not planet Flauston of the Angel constellation.

    February 19, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sun dried

    All other systems are binary star systems. Our Solar system is the only single star (sun) system. Therefore it is not to far fetched to say that this is true.

    February 19, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. David Motari

    "Tyche could not possibly exist." seems to be a typo.

    A confusing one, at that.

    From context within this article and content of article to which "Tyche could not possibly exist" hyperlinks, it seems clear that the author meant to write "Nemesis could not possibly exist."

    February 19, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. dpm1837@aim.com

    Since 2003, I have been fascinated by this potential theory of a brown dwarf star residing in the very outskirts of our solar system. Now in 2011, it looks like science will finally be able to locate this massive brown dwarf star.

    As scientific beings we should seek to understand all the information that we can about this potential brown dwarf. We should try to understand it's orbit. Why is this star there? What can it potentially affect in our own solar system. The more we learn about this star the better. This is a monumental discovery, and I hope people realize this.

    February 19, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. rick worth

    binary stars rotate around each other. its proposed that this star has a 2600 year orbit, not millions of years. which coincides with the changing of the ages. written history and in the geological footprint of earths past reveals that something globally rocks our system in a cyclical pattern during the cusps of the ages. bringing thriving civilizations to an abrupt halt. a 9000 year old city has ben found recently off the coast if India, pre-dating any known civilization on earth, that is, above water. as this "star" draws nearer to its twin it will accelerate as with the laws of motion. should these events unfold we will be here to witness it up close and it will be fast in coming. as the sun rises on the winter solstice in Dec 2012, between the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpio, where the constellation of Ophiuchus ( the serpent bearer) resides marking the center of the galaxy, consequently also, the shift of the ages. naysayers can run there gambit all they want. after all who wants to think of such sweeping catastrophic changes. and I've not heard of an arc being built. but its in earths geological record and is backed up by human history. best of luck to us all. and by the way....do try to enjoy each day like it was the last.

    February 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ZechariahSitchin

    Its obvious that this is Nibiru
    please see my books explaining this

    February 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
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