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Dude, where's my planet?
March 3, 2011 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Where's Tyche, the 10th 9th planet? Getting the full story. John Matese and Daniel Whitmire of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette recently made the news when they announced the possible discovery of a gas giant planet they named Tyche in the Oort Cloud, at the extreme edge of the Solar System (previously). Now ars electronica breaks down the evidence behind the announcement, what can be done to confirm or disprove its existence & how long it could take.
posted by scalefree (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does studying this gas giant involve measuring Rush Limbaugh's head?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:48 PM on March 3, 2011


Surely a gravity map* of the solar system and environs shows this object?

* Such a map probably doesn't exist.
posted by maxwelton at 6:09 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why don't we just call up the Vogons and ask how many planets there are around here?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:45 PM on March 3, 2011


Yeah, there's a gravity map, of sorts - basically the "ephemerides" of the planets.

It's not widely known, but we don't really know where the planets are, exactly. Planets we've had orbiters around tend to be more nailed down (+/- 1 km), but the outer ice giants are way, way off (+/- 200km or more).

Here's a PDF with information on our current knowledge uncertainity.

Astronomers can take this information and eliminate classes of planets with it. For example, they can say "we've added up all the pulls from all the other planets, and for Saturn to be where it is, there's no way there's an Earth mass 100AU pulling on it too."
posted by maschnitz at 6:47 PM on March 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I applaud the ready falsifiability of their hypothesis.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:50 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


*warily eyes string theorists*
posted by leotrotsky at 6:51 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT TYCHE. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I applaud the ready falsifiability of their hypothesis.

Exactly. They've seen what they think is a signal, they've stated a hypothesis for that signal, and they've declared a range of detection for the source.

This is how science works. They'll be right or wrong, but they've done science correctly. The signal may be noise. It may be real, but with a different source. It may be real, with the postulated source.

They've examined the data, proposed a hypothesis, and offered a test of said hypothesis.

Good on them.
posted by eriko at 8:40 PM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't be the only person who's disappointed that they didn't name it Rupert.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:06 PM on March 3, 2011


YOU SHOULD STAY AWAY. SERIOUSLY. THIS PLACE IS DANGEROUS.
posted by Pendragon at 5:09 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


YOU GUYS, SOMEONE LANDED ON TYCHE LAST NIGHT. I'M NOT ANGRY, I'M JUST DISAPPOINTED. WILL WHOEVER LANDED ON TYCHE PLEASE COME TO MY OFFICE AFTER CLASS TODAY. I WILL PUNISH THE ENTIRE CLASS IF YOU DO NOT COME TO SEE ME TODAY. PLEASE DO NOT RUIN THE SCHOOL DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR CLASSMATES. THANK YOU.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:34 AM on March 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


And now I am thinking of a titanic version of the hippie teacher from Beavis and Butthead, floating in space and playing guitar.

Except you can't hear it.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:57 AM on March 4, 2011


"But he would think of something, m'kay?"
posted by AugieAugustus at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amid all the comedy gold flying around here, I'd just like to compliment scalefree on a fine and interesting post.
posted by dust of the stars at 9:44 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I'm more curious why it's taking us so long to come up with evidence for the Oort cloud.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2011


Lookout for the gorram REAVERS!
posted by Twang at 1:38 PM on March 4, 2011


From the article:

One thing worth noting about the analysis done by Matese and Whitmire is the relatively small number of comets studied in their report. To be sure, they did study all the comets from the Outer Oort Cloud known to us, but 102 comets are just not enough to make a statistical signal stand out significantly above the noise. For example, the bias found in the study means that they found only about 5 too many comets with low orbital tilts when the 102 comets are sorted into 5 bins between 0 and 90 degree inclinations. The study also indicates that there are several possible fits to the common orbital plane shared by these Outer Oort Cloud comets, so the orbital constraints for this new planet are also not very tight.

The new study is definitely sound science, and it is an extremely careful analysis of cometary orbits that shows interesting hints of something at play; however, the evidence for a new planet is not very strong, and the authors are unable to pinpoint where in the sky Tyche is.


I've always been skeptical of this one. They jumped out too far in front of the data for blasting their original press release out there.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:29 AM on March 5, 2011


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