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

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 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.

Post by:
Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,170 Responses)
  1. dave wolf

    Ancient tales of dark planets ... coming true .... sun spot cycle peaks in twenty twelve ... climate radicalizes ... earthquakes are doing somp'in .... check it out ... another tale that turns more true evryday ...can something strange be far away ... prophecies old ...predictions new ... remember its about a coming new, gloden, and enlightened time for man ... but lots of birthing pains along the way ... go cosmos a new man ... prophecies old ...predicitions new ...

    February 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • FMCH


      February 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • VonDaniken

      Pyramid-shaped hats! Get yer pyramid hats right here!
      No one gets to board the saucers without a pyramid hat! Looks cool! Keeps you warm! Promotes healthy digestion!

      This is the dawning of the age of a Dummy Us, the age of a Dummy Us, a Duuummmmyyyy Uuuuussss!

      February 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Von, I am NOT getting into ANY stupid flying saucer!
      I'm waiting for my flying cup to arrive. MUCH more spacious. 😉

      February 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Marvin

    My lludium PU-36 Space Modulator will destroy that silly planet, as it is blocking my view of Alpha Centuri. Commander K9, Ohhh, K9, go retrieve my lludium PU-36 Space Modulator....K9!

    February 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • K and J

      K: You're under arrest for speeding, flying an unlicensed saucer, being on Earth without a visa...

      J: ...and carrying one of these!

      Marvin: Oh, my Iludium PU-36 Spacemodulator!!!

      K: Uh, slick...

      J: Uh-oh!


      February 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Suchi

    Alderbaran, we need to play wow in alderban.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nice_Marmot

    Did anyone else think of Tycho Brahe when reading this?

    February 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • K and J

      Yes at first, but then I remebered Tchye from my Greek Mythology course.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jules43

    Wait, so there's something out there bigger than us? Nonsense. I propose that the author of this article is a witch.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • VonDaniken

      And how do you KNOW she is a witch?

      February 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      She turned me into a newt!

      February 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hitchhiker

      She will either float or sink. Either way she is a witch.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jules43

      We've got better.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Witch

      This isn't even my real nose; it's a false one! They made me wear it.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Robin

      She looks like one......

      February 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • K and J

      Burn her anyway!

      February 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mr_Crowley

    I thought I saw that last week. I called to report it and they said no – now they admit it. I smell cover-up.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FMCH

    Sheesh CNN, for shame. I understand it's "cool" but.....let's look at what a very well respected astromoner has to say about it...

    "I read their papers, and thought the data were interesting but unconvincing. The sample size was too small. A bigger study was done, but again the effects weren’t quite enough to rise to the level of breakthrough. I’m not saying the astronomers are wrong — the data were certainly provocative, and potentially correct! Just not firm enough"

    They used words like "might" and "believe" which should tell you right away, that the concrete evidence for this "planet" isn't all there. Maybe a heck of a lot more research will give better and more accurate answers.

    I gotta say CNN, between you posting Deepak filled woo and this article, you're fast becoming a bastion on pseudo news/science.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • amphiox

      Exactly. This is at best a hypothesis with only a small chance of being correct. At worst pure speculation that just happens to not yet be completely ruled out due to the limitations on our ability to observe the universe at present (not unlike a hypothesized black teapot with an Albedo of 0 in the asteroid belt...).

      February 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. emaho

    And we need to know this??? For what good purpose???

    February 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • L

      Because it is interesting 🙂

      February 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • quizard

      Just because it's there, or maybe it's not.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark

    Should we trust the astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire? The article quotes him – "You'd also expect it to have moons," he said. "All the outer planets have them." Except Mercury does not have a moon. I guess he should study more of the planets that are near us, instead of speculating on what might be farther out.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cecil

      Mercury is an "inner" planet isn't it?

      February 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • usarnaem

      Well he did specify the outer planets of our solar system, and they all do have moons, so he was technically correct.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • stewman109

      Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun there, Bill Nye

      February 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Yeah, Mercury is not an outer planet.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Mercury maybe is an outer planet for this mysterious brown dwarf.... Is that what you're trying to say?

      February 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cecil

    I find this fascinating all silly comments aside.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim

    ....a moth flew in my mouth tryin to look up and see this thing. no more for me.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. usarnaem

    What is it about space that draws out the conspiracy theorists and other assorted wackos? If we discover a brown dwarf in our stellar neighborhood, then cool, that means we've got another cosmic object we can study up close. If it exists, then its been there since the formation of the solar system, and its discovery has no mythical or supernatural meaning. If anything, it'll serve as a milestone for the scientific progress of our species.

    All of you people asserting this potential discovery has some type of apocalyptic significance should probably take your meds and adjust your tinfoil hat.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • sumday

      the problem with your statement is that ancient text talk about just such a planet. They said it had a 3600yr orbit (which is where we get 360 degrees in a circle). To further the conspiracy these ancient people not only said this "planet" existed but that it was inhabited by the "gods" (also called annanuki or something) who came to earth and created humans. (do a Google search on Sumerian/Babylonian texts/beliefs). While you may look at this and say oh hum just another planet- some of the more curious of us would go how the @#*& did those people who barely figured out the wheel know about this planet, and if they were able to know of this planet, that with all our advance technology we are just now possibly discovering today, and describe it’s orbit with somewhat accuracy what does that say about the other stuff they wrote about concerning the inhabitance of that planet? I mean you can dismiss it you want, but for me it causes wonder at how a primitive man 6000+ yr ago could have known and described such a planet- and if they were right about that planet what about the other stuff they wrote about concerning the beings from it? Call it myth if you like, but nearly all myth’s come from a large stretch of truth-

      February 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • amphiox

      No, sumday, only some (a small minority) of myths come with some small factual basis. The majority of myths began as fiction made up by people at the time to entertain themselves. (In 2000 years it's possible Superman will be a myth, and people like you will be arguing about there being some factual basis to the hero from Krypton).

      And a 3600yr orbit is definitely out. That would have put the thing well closer than 15000AU, and we would have easily known about it by the time of Tycho Brahe, as its gravitational effects would have been that big.

      February 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Spot on Sumday. Zeharia Sitchin, an ancient language expert, speaks of the same exact stuff in his series of books beginning with the '12th Planet'. Amazing hypothesis' are drawn using the evidence at hand. One of things that pops into my head is a read an interview about him where he talked about how the could the Babylonians know about the planet Neptune and describe it as a green planet. It would seem counter-intuitive that a planet so far from the sun could sustain a water filled planet capable of supporting life, but about 15 years ago our Neptune orbiter's photos showed the Neptune indeed had a greenish hue. It pretty much floored everybody.

      February 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Richie P

    So the whole idea that this thing exists is based on a percieved pattern of mass extinctions? So, how can they be so certain the extinctions are caused by objects striking the earth and not something internal to earth? If the earth's geology has some 27-million-year recurring cycle, it would not have to be very dramatic at all to cause recurring mass extinctions, considering how frail specific plant and animal populations are.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • wetpaperbag2

      No one knows for certain. It's called a theory and thus is WHY they want to find out if this indeed true. It's all part of the process of discovery. Ask questions and seek answers.

      It's been long believed that there is a large stellar mass just beyond the Oort Cloud because we can detect a sharp drop off of Kuiper Belt objects. The theory is that there is either a planet, dwarf plant, or even a brown dwarf that's herding the objects on the outer rim.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. darklyastir

    death star.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Surf_Dog

    What's missing from this article is that Phil Plait, a noted astrophycist and author of teh Bad Astronomer Blog, stated that he has read the paper and the accompanying data and does not agree with the conclusions citing the lack of data. The sample size of data is too small, more study and observation is requried to confirm the findings.

    This is more about making a name for themselves and for the sake of their respective vanities than it is about science.

    CNN's reporting in this situation is rather biased and not well researched since there are those who dispute the announcement yet surprisingly not mentioned. OR should we even be surprised? Journalisim is supposed to be unbiased, fair and complete. This story fails in regards to journalistic principals.

    February 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      So is that why he wrote it on a blog and didn't publish a dissent?

      February 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35