Planetary detective is sure the truth is out there

A BRITISH scientist believes he has found convincing evidence for the existence of an undiscovered planet orbiting the Sun in the outermost reaches of the solar system.

A BRITISH scientist believes he has found convincing evidence for the existence of an undiscovered planet orbiting the Sun in the outermost reaches of the solar system.

The planet - if it is shown to exist - would be larger than Jupiter, the biggest of the other nine planets, and is likely to have once wandered through interstellar space before being captured by the gravitational pull of the Sun.

Despite its enormous size, astronomers have failed to observe the planet because it reflects hardly any light and moves so slowly in the sky, said Dr John Murray, a planetary scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

However, the planet's own gravity is strong enough to affect the orbits of comets in the solar system, which has enabled Dr Murray to calculate the planet's position, roughly 33,000 times further away from the Sun than the Earth.

Existing theories about the origin of comets predict that their orbits should be random affairs but Dr Murray found that at least 13 of them are strictly aligned, suggesting that the gravitational effects of a hitherto unknown object is marshalling their movements.

Dr Murray calculated the chances of the non-random orbits of the 13 comets occurring by chance alone are about 1,700-to- one. "Whatever happens, there is something here to be explained. At the moment I can't find a more likely explanation of this finding than there being another planet," Dr Murray said. The planet would have to be at least as massive as Jupiter to provide sufficient gravitational kick to alter the orbital paths of the comets around the Sun.

It could even be as large as a "brown dwarf" star - the coolest type of a star - which can be more than ten times as massive as Jupiter.

Dr Murray favours the idea of it being a large planet-sized object that escaped from its own star and wandered into the path of our own Sun at some point in the distant past. "I think there's no doubt that it's not an original member of the solar system but has been captured from elsewhere," he said.

The research into the "tenth planet" is due to be published next week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It will coincide with a study being presented at an astronomy conference in Italy on Monday, when an American team led by Professor John Matese of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will come to a similar conclusion.

"I was looking at the origin of comets three years ago and it first occurred to me then that they were associated with an unknown planet, but it seemed a ridiculous idea," Dr Murray said. "It is good to think someone else has reached a similar conclusion." By plotting the position of comets at their farthest points from the Sun - the aphelion - Dr Murray found that a significant number could be aligned in a straight line, indicating the external influence of a large object. He has worked out that the planet, if it exists, currently lies somewhere in the direction of the constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin.

Two scientific journals rejected Dr Murray's paper before it was accepted by the Royal Astronomical Society. "I can understand the scepticism because it would be a surprising result if it turns out to be true," he said.

Astronomers have long suspected there might be a "tenth planet" orbiting the sun beyond Pluto, but this was based on perturbations to the orbit of Neptune, which would not be affected by the object discovered by Dr Murray. Big discovery and the nine heavenly bodies it may be about to eclipse

Mercury

Diameter: 3,031 miles.36 million miles from the Sun. Not much bigger than the Moon, what little atmosphere Mercury has is helium.

Venus

Diameter: 7,520 miles. 67.2 million miles from the Sun. Like Earth but hotter (465C) thanks to a runaway greenhouse effect.

Earth

Diameter: 8,000 miles. 93 million miles from the Sun. The only place were life is known to exist. The "pale blue dot" of the solar system.

Mars

Diameter: 4,217 miles. 141 million miles from the Sun. The red planet, named after the Roman war god. May once have hosted life.

Jupiter

Diameter: 88,846 miles. 483.6 million miles from the Sun. A globe of liquid and gas, it is heavier than all other planets combined.

Saturn

Diameter: 67,570 miles. 887 million miles from the Sun. Second in size to Jupiter, Saturn is famous for its icy rings.

Uranus

Diameter: 31,035 miles. 1,784m miles from the Sun. Seen as planet in 1781; named after Saturn's mythological father.

Neptune

Diameter: 30,775 miles. 2,794 million miles from the Sun. Discovered in 1846, has winds gusting to 1,240 mph.

Pluto

Diameter: 1,419 miles. 4,583 million miles from the Sun. Discovered in 1930, Pluto is farthest planet from the Sun yet found.

Planet X

Diameter: unknown. 3,300 billion miles from the Sun. If it exists, Planet X could be 10 times more massive than Jupiter.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game