Percival Lowell, an astronomer and businessman, started looking for “Planet X,” a fictitious massive planet that orbited the sun beyond Neptune. Based on alleged abnormalities in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus, Lowell was certain that Planet X existed. Although astronomers later decided that the dwarf planet was too tiny to have any gravitational effects on Neptune’s orbit (much alone Uranus’), his conviction ultimately contributed to the finding of Pluto in 1930.
The Planet X theory is now widely regarded as being false. Even yet, scientists continue to search for planets in the outer regions of the solar system. And a recent research suggests that they could exist—though far further away than Lowell could have imagined.
A new simulation of the erratic celestial mechanics of the early solar system was conducted by an international team of experts. According to NASA, the Oort cloud is a massive assemblage of frozen objects that is thought to extend between a few hundred billion and several trillion miles from the sun. They discovered that there is a potential that one or more planet-size comets came to rest in the Oort cloud. The new manuscript explaining the study has not yet undergone peer review; it has been posted to the preprint service arxiv.
The solar system was a chaotic place 4.5 billion years ago when it was just formed. The quickly cooling protoplanetary dust cloud’s debris was flung pinging around by gravity like cosmic pool balls. The scientists estimated that occasionally, enormous bits of debris, even planet-sized ones, would have been launched far enough to completely escape the sun’s gravity.
Such “rogue planets” have been seen roving around in far-off solar systems, according to scientists. The likelihood of one of these errant planets forming in our solar system and ending up in the Oort cloud is estimated to be 0.5%, according to the researchers.
The study determined that it is significantly more plausible that a stray Neptune-like planet from another solar system got captured by the sun’s gravity and settled somewhere in the Oort cloud. There is a 7% possibility that this would happen, and if it does, then an object like Lowell’s long-sought Planet X may really exist, even though it would still be too far away to affect Neptune’s orbit.
The Oort cloud is most likely composed of a smattering of much smaller frozen particles, according to the researchers. But given the vastness and remoteness of the Oort cloud, we might never be certain of what lurks there.