A new study suggests that the so-called Planet X may be responsible for the prehistoric mass extinctions on Earth such as the disappearance of the dinosaurs. According to retired astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire, the elusive Planet X has been triggering comet showers, roughly every 27 million years, that result in periodic mass extinctions.
Planet X And Mass Extinction
Whitmire first put forth the theory that Planet X and mass extinctions were connected when he worked at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as an astrophysicist in 1985. Whitmire and his colleague John Matese postulated that Planet X's orbit takes the planet through the Kuiper belt every 27 million years. As Planet X passes, objects along the belt are dislodged and knocked into the inner solar system, with some smashing into Earth and some disintegrating as they get closer to the sun. The lack of sunlight and the comets' impact would then result in global cooling and eventual mass extinction on Earth.
Whitmire and Matese also checked the paleontological record and found evidence of regular comet showers dating back to 250 million years.
In Whitmire's new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, he asserts that the periodic comet showers are caused by Planet X. This time, however, updated databases show that the regular catastrophic events can be traced back to 500 million years ago, twice the time interval of the 1985 study.
Planet X And Planet Nine: One And The Same?
The search for "Planet Nine" also made Whitmire reconsider the Planet X model he and Matese made in 1985.
According to a recent study conducted by California Institute of Technology (Caltech), there is an undiscovered ninth planet that is about 10 times the Earth's mass. Its oblong-shaped orbit brings it close to the Kuiper belt, and it is also massive enough to fling comets into the inner solar system.
Whitmire found similarities between their Planet X model and Caltech's description of a ninth planet. Is it possible that the two are one and the same?
"I've been part of this story for 30 years. If there is ever a final answer I'd love to write a book about it," said Whitmire, who is now a math teacher at the University of Arkansas.
But not everyone is convinced with Whitmire's theory. Caltech's Mike Brown said that the ninth planet they are searching for may not be the Planet X that Matese and Whitmire hope it to be.
"While that idea may or may not make sense, it definitely has nothing to do with Planet Nine, which is much closer to the sun and thus 'only' takes 15,000 years to go around," said Brown.
Photo: Beth Scupham | Flickr