A Nine-Planet Solar System Once More? NASA Telescope May Reveal New Planet, Tyche

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Digitally generated image of our solar system and points beyond.

A few years ago we all thought there were nine planets. But now space is a whole lot more complicated. The hunt for the giant planet is on.

When Pluto was demoted from its planet status five years ago, we were pretty shook up. Having eight planets just isn’t so catchy. Classroom wall charts around the globe were taken down and new rhymes had to be learned. Luckily, scientists have strong evidence to suggest that there is a ninth planet lurking beyond Pluto, and what’s more, it’s a big one.

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Evidence gathered by the NASA space telescope, Wise, could prove that this gas giant is hidden in the outer Oort Cloud, the most remote part of the solar system. The suspected planet has been named Tyche (pronounced ty-kee) by the two astrophysicists proposing it for “planet” status, Daniel Whitmire and John Matese from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The first batch of data on Tyche is due to be released in April. After that, the planet may reveal itself within two years, say the two scientists. “If it does, John and I will be doing cartwheels. And that’s not easy at our age.” Professor Whitmire said.

Once Tyche has been located, it is up to the International Astronomical Union (IAU)  whether or not it gains full “planet” status. The main problem the IAU could have with the proposal is that Tyche probably formed around another star and was later captured by the sun’s gravitational field. They might even have to create a whole new category for the gas-ball giant.

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Tyche is suspected to be four times the mass of Jupiter with an orbit around 15,000 times further from the Sun than Earth’s, and 375 times further than Pluto’s. It will probably be composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with an atmosphere just like Jupiter’s. Professor Whitmire added that the planet-in-waiting will have its own moons, like other outer planets, and its surface will be covered in colorful spots, bands and clouds.

In a few months time, we could be back to the good ol’ nine-planet solar system, courtesy of the giant Tyche. Watch this space. (Via The Independent)

Clarification: According to a NASA spokesperson, it is still too early to definitively tell if Wise data confirms or rules out the object in the Oort cloud. After data is collected for a few years, the hypothesis that Tyche exists will be tested. Some language from the original post has been modified accordingly.