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.

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

    It wouldn't be a shock to find we were once a 2 star system, since MOST systems are binary and not singular like we think we are now.

    That said... I think we'd have had evidence of it existing a LONG time ago if it was actually there. All this seems like conjecture. Where are the effects of its gravity? It may not have a lot of energy, but it shoudl have a lot of mass anyway, so what is it effecting? Our entire solar system would be impacted by its gravity, and we could read that like a map. As it doesn't seem to be doing so, I'd say its a long shot.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Even at that mass the effect of gravity would be shockingly small at that distance as the effect of gravity decreases with the square of distance. If it is as far out as they think it is the best way to find it would be in perturbations in the Oort cloud. Of course, the objects in the Oort cloud are shockingly small (in comparison to the distance) so direct observation is almost impossible with the technology we have now. Hopefully infrared observations coupled with indirect gravitational observation may help find it.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Ituri, the effect this object would have decreases proportional to the square of the distance, so the distance being large enough, the effect observed will become nigh indetectable at some point. The implication is that the object is theorized from the behavior of comets and other Oort Cloud objects, which aren't really a cloud per se, but all exist in an identifiable region far, far outside the orbit of Pluto.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ituri

      I understand the distance issue, but we're still talking something that would definitely impact our solar system. We watch entire stars for months to note a visible (small, but visible) wobble that indicates a small rocky planet it orbiting that star. We CAN read this small shift, have been able to for a long while now. There is nothing that can be THAT large THAT close (and it is relatively close to our solar system in the cosmic scale of things) that would not impact our gravitational orbits and Sol (our sun). You've got to think distance in spacial terms, not in what we think of as "long." A mile is "long" to me on foot, but a mile is nothing in context to your average vehicle.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Ituri, you're right, we should be able to detect it, but it's no easy task. An object twice as close but with the same mass would have four times the effect of gravity. This object is roughly 1,395,000,000,000 miles away. It would take 90 days for any visible light to reach us. This is very, very far away.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Ituri, I think you are also underestimating how difficult it is to find something like this. Unlike the stars we are exploring for new planets this body doesn't shed any light. Also we are finding these extra solar planets by how they change the brightness of light reaching us (and minutes changes in the 'wobble' of stars). These techniques simply don't apply to an object like this – it doesn't give off any light so it's black. It's also very small (in relation to the distance) and the sky is very very big. The only way we could have detected it before was by hoping we had a telescope in just the right place when this object occludes a star and we specifically looked for it. There are no automated systems to scan the sky yet (there are systems that take pictures of the sky but nothing that interprets those pictures).

      So in this case its really a hunt using very indirect methods. Sort of like trying to find Hawaii by looking at the waves washing up on the beach in Los Angeles. You can do it, but you have to really be looking for it.

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

      The simplest and most effective way to look for it would be to look for orbital perturbations of Pluto and Neptune. Any unexplained perturbation would be evidence for an object beyond the Oort cloud.
      The most likely at THAT distance would be a brown dwarf.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      the second star was supposed to be Jupiter, but the amount of gas in proto-jupiter did not provide enough gravitational mass to generate temperature in the core to fuse hydrogen atoms into helium. Thus, it became a planet instead. a dead planet, but a planet nonetheless.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • amphiox

      Ituri, current observations of the solar system basically set the limits to what can and cannot be out there, in terms of how big it is and/or how far away it is. For any given mass of a hypothesized planet/brown dwarf/companion star, there is a minimum distance that it cannot be closer, or else the effect of its gravity would have been measurable and we would have already discovered it. I think this is in fact how they came up with the 15000AU distance estimate and 4X Jupiter mass. If it was any closer than that, we would already know it was there thanks to the effects of its gravity.

      Magnus, Jupiter could either be a failed star, or a very successful planet. It all depends on how it formed (something we don't know and at present don't have the means to find out for certain). If it formed by gravitational collapse of a portion of the proto-solar system gas cloud, like the sun, then it would be a "failed" star. If it formed from accretion within the protoplanetary disc, then it would be a rather "successful" planet. (For Jupiter to have made to star status with fusion of hydrogen, it would have had to have become 81X more massive than it actually is. So if it is a "failed" star, it is actually something of a epic fail....) At present the weight of evidence leans more towards the "successful" planet hypothesis.

      February 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Darth Shrader

    Klaatu barada nikto

    February 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • ??

      grow up

      February 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      ?? no YOU grow up. Klaatu barada nik

      February 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Klaatu barada nik(mumble)...

      February 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gort

      Now that's funny!

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


      February 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      I said your daammnn words. Now hold up your end of the bargain and send me home. hahaha

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

      Gimme some sugar baby

      February 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nate

    Hey Tyche, assimilate this!!!

    February 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Love it

      February 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. P Smith

    This may well explain why the Voyager and Pioneer satellites have been moving away from the Sun in unexpected ways (change of direction and lower speed).

    February 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      As they're DECELERATING in velocity, that wouldn't explain it. Especially, as they're in totally different directions, hence any gravitational attraction would be in a direction other than toward the sun.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. karek40

    If it exists – one thing for certain, the description of where we are we sent out on voyger won't do an alien any good. lol

    February 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Suchi

    Ituri, you ignorant fool (or manipulative fool)the gravity perturbs the orbits of wll the planets, most significantly those of Jupiter and Pluto, which like a resonant pattern of overlapping waves in a pond, affects the whole solar system. Our 'global warming' is just a cover up for the changes in weather caused by the brown dwarfs infrared radiation. It is of no concern to me, as an alien, my spacecraft has malfunction and I cannot leave the planet, but also as an alien and a human, I must naturally eat pop corn and have my way with my slave, lei a, yum yum.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ituri

      Umm... all righty then. Have fun with that slave. *wacko*

      February 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Surf_Dog

      Can you not read?

      The article stated that brown dwarfs emit very little radiation and thus are difficult to detect. Therefore, this object is NOT affecting our planet. Where did you learn to read?

      February 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Suchi, you can borrow my ship, so you may return to your home planet, Stupidia.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Thy

    I'm wondering if the orbit of such a massive object would explain our ice age cycles on Earth?

    February 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • qwerty allstar

      supposedly it does

      February 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • gsaha

      I think Albert *yawn* Gore has already explained Globull Warming

      February 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      No- we already know why the ice ages occurred at the times they did- it relates to periodic cycles in Earth's orbit and the resultant effect on Earth's carbon cycle. You can look up "Milankovitch cycles" if you're curious.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Grundoon

    Capt'n! I think she's gunna blough!! Warp 10? She just can't du it! We don' have enough delithum crrr-ystals!

    February 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Papa Palpatine

    "They what??? And what the hell is an aluminum falcon??? I was still paying on that thing!!!"

    February 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smacky

      Love that episode!

      February 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Suchi

    Thy, time for the day after to or row and deep impact marathon....I need to hand cuff my wife to my chair. She has a bone in her mouth right now. Yum yum.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Suchi

    Im going to buy q machine gun and mow my lawn with it.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. DunderChief

    Not cool of the writer to omit Richard Muller, champion of the original Nemesis theory. Hmmm, you know Pluto, Roman god of the Dead? That's kind of negative, so I'm going to call it Cupid instead. Hey, I just discovered a new object in our solar system!

    February 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nemesis

    Please name it Nemesis. How cool would it be to name the planets:

    Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune......NEMESIS

    February 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ituri

      I know, right??? I like the original name, its all dramatic. ^_^

      February 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • throughback

      Call it Pluto2.0

      February 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Trillstone

    Isn't this strangely congruent to the Nibiru/Planet X thing some people have talked about?

    February 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      Yes, exactly the same details, foreshadowing, and speculations surrounding a red gassy planet with numerous moons that is unseen until the end is near.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JB!

    heh heh, tyche=epic fail

    February 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
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