What’s Going On In The Outer Solar System?
The theories about Planet X are among the most popular in ufology. There are many, many websites, books, videos and magazine articles about this mysterious, and possibly mythical, member of our solar system.
Before we proceed further, let’s take a potted history of the solar system’s ‘back of beyond’... The term ‘Planet X’ came about when astronomers were looking for a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. The ‘X’ simply meant ‘unknown’. The first contender for the term, though, was Uranus. For millennia, there were only six planets sharing space: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Of course, our ancestors didn’t realize they were planets and called them ‘wandering stars’, which is what ‘planet’ means. Their orbits make them move quite quickly against the background stars, you see.
Although Uranus is sometimes just visible to the naked eye, it wasn’t ‘officially’ discovered until Sir William Herschel spotted it in 1781. Fifty-five years later, Neptune brought the Sun’s planetary tally up to eight.
When Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, we suddenly had nine planets orbiting the Sun, so the search for Planet X became the search for the tenth planet. ‘X’ is ten in Roman numerals, obviously.
For over seventy years, Pluto was held as the outermost member of the Sun’s family, a tiny, rocky/icy body that had an orbit like none of the other planets. Its orbit brought it inside that of Neptune for several years and its orbit is at an angle very different to that shared by its eight cousins. The other eight planets orbit in what is called ‘the plane of the ecliptic’. They all share this orbital slice of space within a few degrees of each other. You might liken the solar system to a dinner plate, with the Sun being a big baked potato in the middle and the planets being, say, peas placed on the plate at regular intervals.
Pluto, though, is a pea that some naughty kid is throwing at the plate from above. Its orbital inclination is seventeen degrees from the ecliptic. Pluto was also much smaller than expected, being only 2,390km (1,485 miles) in diameter. The search for Pluto was sparked by an apparent eccentricity in the orbit of Neptune. It seemed that something was tugging at the gas giant and affecting its orbit. Pluto was way too small to have this kind of an effect. It turned out that an error had been made and Neptune was not being pulled by a massive body somewhere in the far reaches of the solar system.
In 1992, the first Kuiper Belt object was discovered. The Kuiper Belt is a swathe of rocky/icy bodies that lie beyond the orbit of Neptune. They are often referred to as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs). Since then, many more TNOs have been found, with at least one being larger than Pluto. This created a quandary for the International Astronomical Union. If there were objects out there more massive than Pluto, then why should the ninth planet be called a planet at all?
In 2006, there was a radical redefinition of what constitutes a planet and Pluto got demoted to the status of a ‘minor planet’. Loads of TNOs also fell into this category. So far, over a thousand Kuiper Belt objects have been discovered and it is thought there may be at least seventy thousand of them out there in the dark, cold reaches of space where the Sun’s light is a tiny fraction of what we have on Earth.
So, we’re down to eight planets in the solar system again. But are we?
In February, 2008, speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), NASA’s Alan Stern said, “Our old view, that the Solar System had nine planets will be supplanted by a view that there are hundreds if not thousands of planets in our Solar System.” He went on: “It could be that there are objects of Earth-mass in the Oort cloud but they would be frozen at these distances. They would look like a frozen Earth.”
The Oort cloud is a theoretical region around the Sun where comets are said to reside before being shunted into closer, solar orbits by passing stars. It is much further out than the Kuiper Belt, stretching perhaps a light-year out into space.
At the same meeting, it was declared that between twenty and sixty percent of stars may have rocky planets orbiting them. That’s a heck of a figure. If only a small percentage of those planets fall into the so-called ‘Goldilocks Zone’, the region where liquid water can form, then there may be literally billions of life-bearing planets in our galaxy alone.
Anyway, back to Planet X…
We have seen that the outer solar system is more heavily-populated than we could have imagined half a century ago. We have also seen that Earth-sized bodies might be out there waiting to be discovered.
Where does Planet X fit into ufology?
Search the internet for Planet X and you will also find words like Nibiru, Nemesis and numbers such as 2012 being used. What do these mean?
Nibiru, as students of the works of Zecharia Sitchin will know, is a theoretical planet that has an elliptical, 3,600 year orbit around the Sun. Sitchin claims that thousands of years ago, a race known as the Anunnaki travelled from Nibiru to Earth when it entered the inner solar system, created humans as a slave race and then left when their home planet began its outward trek once again. It has been suggested that Nibiru will return in the year 2012 (Sitchin has said the year 2085 is more likely), the date forecast by the Mayans as the end of an age. The Anunnaki needed us to mine gold for their planetary shield. This prevented their atmosphere from freezing as they moved further from the Sun.
According to Sitchin (and others that agree with his hypothesis), Nibiru and its moons collided several times with Tiamat, a planet that existed where the Asteroid belt now resides. These collisions created the Earth and Moon, the Asteroid Belt and many comets. Sitchin has also suggested that Nibiru may be a brown dwarf. It’s all very complicated…
So that’s Nibiru and 2012 out of the way. What is Nemesis?
More often than not, stars form in multiple systems i.e. binary, triple, quadruple systems etc. with more than one star. In fact, lone stars are in the minority in the galaxy. Many scientists and astronomers believe that the Sun may have a faint companion, a red or brown dwarf star. This has been given the worrying name, Nemesis. Nemesis was the goddess of revenge in Greek mythology. Said to orbit at a distance of up to nine trillion miles (about fourteen and a half trillion kilometres) from the Sun, the presence of Nemesis may explain the perturbation of cometary orbits and also mass extinctions that affect the Earth every few million years.
It is more likely that Nemesis, if it exists, is a brown dwarf (remember Sitchin’s Nibiru?), a star that has failed to ignite, as a red dwarf so close to us would probably have already been spotted. In 2009, the WISE satellite will be launched. This is the Wide-Field Infra-Red Survey Explorer and is five hundred times more sensitive than previous mission such as IRAS. It will scan the entire sky over a seven month period and if a brown dwarf does orbit the Sun a little more than a light year away, then WISE should find it.
It is well-known that the two Pioneer probes are hurtling out of our solar system into interstellar space. Currently, they are still well inside the boundaries of the Sun’s influence, about six and a half billion miles (about a hundred and five billion kilometres) away. Something is slowing both of these probes down. They are about a quarter of a million miles short of where they should be. What is happening? Many theories have been suggested, ranging from dark matter or dark energy to trans-dimensional membranes intersecting our solar system and affecting the probes to, of course, Planet X. The simplest explanation (and therefore the most likely), suggested by astronomers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is that both probes are still well within the domain of the Kuiper Belt. It is thought that streams of material are being pulled towards the orbit of Uranus from the Kuiper Belt. While this material is extremely rarefied, it is spread evenly throughout the belt. Even this very slight matter would, over time, create drag on the probes, slowing them down slightly. It’s just a theory, but one that explains why each probe is being affected identically to the other, despite them being on opposite sides of the solar system.
My sub-heading for this article is ‘What’s Going On In The Outer Solar System?’ What is going on out there? New discoveries are being made all the time and it seems to be becoming increasingly crowded the further out we go. Does Planet X exist? I think so. In fact, I think there are likely to be many Planet Xs. If one of them has the Anunnaki living on it, we’ll just have to wait until it swings back into our neighbourhood again.
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Updated 16th August, 2012