Gravitational interaction, not giant planet, may explain unusual TNO orbits

But Ann-Marie Madigan, an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, has a different argument.

Some scientists have theorized that a planet about 10 times the size of Earth in the outer solar system is responsible for perturbing the TNOs' orbits. "We can solve a lot of these problems by just taking into account that question".

Some TNOs are "detached objects", which orbit so far from the sun that they're not appreciably affected by the gravity of Neptune or any other known planet.

Just like other "detached objects", Sedna has a circular orbit that moves it away from the system's major planets, propelling it into a journey of more than 11,000 years around the sun.

At the edge of the solar system, small dwarf planets like Sedna move in unusual ways that suggest an unseen ninth planet may be lurking in deep space beyond Neptune, asserting its gravitational pull.

Detached objects like Sedna get their name because they complete gigantic, circular orbits that bring them nowhere close to big planets like Jupiter or Neptune.

In the latest study, presented this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers looked at new models depicting how the massive swarm of objects that make up the Kuiper Belt orbit the sun.

Dwarf planets like Sedna, reports Cnet, have odd orbits around the Sun and one of the reasons for this could be a yet-to-be-seen ninth planet that is large enough, or with enough mass to exert gravitational tugs on them. "This cycle could wind up shooting comets toward the inner solar system-including in the direction of Earth-on a predictable timescale". However, searches for the planet over the last two years have been unsuccessful.

The mysterious dwarf planet Sedna, discovered in 2003.

To understand it, the authors of the work hypothesized that these objects, orbiting the Sun, continually collide with each other (and with other "passenger" debris): the interactions resulting from these shocks, according to computerized simulations, they might be sufficient to explain the anomalies without resorting to the cumbersome hypothesis of the presence of a ninth planet: "These objects", explains Jacob Fleisig, one of the authors of the work, "orbit the Sun like the hands of a clock".

Planet Nine has not been confirmed, however, and all attempts to find it have been fruitless. "These orbits crash into the bigger body (a large TNO, not a gas giant), and what happens is those interactions will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape", he said.

These groupings of distant asteroids and other small objects could also interact with comets lurking out on the chilled edges of our solar system, tightening and widening their orbits over and over again. While the researchers couldn't directly connect their observations to the collision that wiped out the dinosaurs and most life on Earth, Fleisig called the possibility "tantalizing".

Bizarrely, it might also explain what killed the dinosaurs, The Register reports.

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