Far beyond our own solar system, a dark and elusive presence that has become the subject of countless scientific debates, calculations and heartaches supposedly wanders about. Astronomers believe this mysterious presence known as Planet X greatly influences the orbits of surrounding space objects due to its gravitational force.
Decades have long passed since the first theories concerning Planet X came out, but today, the presumed existence of the planet still stirs up heated discussions within the scientific community.
The debates are fueled now more than ever as two scientific papers claim discovery for not just one, but two space objects that may very well be the elusive Planet X.
Through the use of the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), a powerful array of telescopes located in Chile, scientists coming from Mexico and Sweden said they came across two extremely massive objects moving through the outskirts of our solar system.
The papers, both submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, have not yet been formally published or peer-reviewed. Wouter Vlemmings, astronomer at Chalmers University of Technology and co-author on both papers, said they posted the papers for one purpose: to get people talking.
"We specifically wanted to reach the community that could tell us if we overlooked something, in which case we fully intend to withdraw the papers," said Vlemmings.
The first paper, titled "The serendipitous discovery of a possible new solar system object with ALMA," [pdf] contains explanations on the discovery of a large rocky object called Gna, named after a quick-moving Nordic messenger goddess.
Scientists said Gna could be an asteroid nearly the size of Ireland, and it could be zooming around near Uranus. They also propose that Gna could be an undiscovered planet that is floating much farther beyond. It could also be a brown dwarf — bigger than a planet and smaller than a star — passing through space.
The second report, subtitled "ALMA discovers the most distant object of the solar system," [pdf] explains the detection of an object that is located closely to the binary star Alpha Centauri. Researchers say the object may be a Super-Earth planet found beyond Pluto. It could be a brown dwarf that is really far, or an icy trans-Neptunian object, but other experts said the latter is less likely.
Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, one of the scientists involved in kicking out Pluto as one of the official planets, said the two papers do not contain the answers for the long-sought Planet X.
"The logical leaps are sort of astounding," said Brown. "What they really saw is a little blip and then six months later another little blip."
Brown said the probability of stumbling across a massive planet-like object through ALMA is too small. Because of the limited field vision that ALMA offers, finding Planet X would be similar to scooping a cup full of water from the ocean and taking out the white whale from it, added Brown.
Meanwhile, no matter how brutal the responses are to the papers, Vlemmings hopes fellow scientists will come forward to help them observe the distant blip with extra instruments.