The mystery of the Solar system: what causes the anomalies in the orbits of TRANS-Neptunian objects

Somewhere in the far reaches of the Solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, something weird is going on. A few small celestial bodies demonstrate the behavior that is not characteristic of other objects in our system, scientists can not understand the reasons for the observed phenomena. According to the most popular hypothesis is that a statistical anomaly in the distribution of the orbits of the detached TRANS-Neptunian objects (TNO) would explain the “Ninth planet“, a planetary object that is looking for scientists from all over the world. However, one group of physicists speaks with a different, more logical, in their opinion, the explanation for the observed effects.

Instead of one large object, the cause of the observed orbital distortions can be the combined gravity of a group of small TRANS-Neptunian objects and Kuiper belt objects, astrophysicists believe Antranik Sefilyan from the University of Cambridge (UK) and Jihad Touma of the American University in Beirut (Lebanon). Preprint of article describing their findings, published on the website of the electronic library arXiv.org and preparing for publication in the journal Astronomical Journal.

If this idea seems familiar, it’s because Sefilyan and Touma is not the first that use it made. Held but this pair of astrophysicists mathematical calculations for the first time explain the existence of the strange peculiarities in the orbits of TRANS-Neptunian objects and take into account the presence of the remaining eight planets of the Solar system.

First, the assumption that the Solar system can be another large planet, which is called “ninth”, was nominated in 2016. By studying the behaviors of one of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt, astronomers also found some TRANS-Neptunian objects orbiting a strange anomaly – they were “cut off” from the gravitational influence of the gas giants of the Solar system and had a strange inclination that distinguish them from other objects in the Kuiper belt. In addition, it was noted that six of these objects were grouped so that a coincidence is not pulled. The idea arose that someone had “pushed” or “pulled” in the same direction. According to computer models, it could make some giant planet never existed before.

Scientists still can’t find her. Overall, it is quite understandable. Under the same assumption, the orbit of this planet is very elongated and may lie very far from the Sun. Kinda hard to find the object in the dark, especially if you do not know where exactly it should look. At the same time, this elusiveness makes scientists to turn to alternative hypotheses, which excludes the existence of the “Ninth planet”, but at the same time trying to explain the strange behavior of some small cosmic bodies on the outer reaches of our Solar system.

“The hypothesis of the “Ninth planet”, certainly very interesting. Even if this planet exists, she’s obviously very actively “avoiding” detection” — says Sefilyan, adding that the team would like to look at least pathetic explanation for the strange behavior of some of the TNO.

“We thought, why instead of searching for the ninth planet, and then attempts to explain her appearance and unusual orbit, not to consider the effect of gravity more compact objects that form a belt beyond the orbit of Neptune, and then see where this is all going to lead.”

Scientists have created a computer model of an individual, probably included all the planets of the Solar system with their gravity, and also took into account the presence of a vast disk of the Kuiper belt, consisting of small bodies remaining after the formation of the Solar system. Making model the information about the mass, the eccentricity (a measure of deviation of the object) and orientation of the disk, the researchers were able to recreate the clustered loop the orbits of objects released in reality from the rest of the TNO.

“If you take away from the model of the “Ninth planet” and instead assume the presence of many small bodies scattered over a wide area, then the collective gravity of these objects is quite able to explain the eccentricities of the orbits that we observed in some TRANS-Neptunian objects,” explains Sefilyan.

Model Sefilyan and Touma solves the problem faced by a group of researchers from the University of Colorado in boulder last year and made a hypothesis about collective gravity. Their calculations also reflected the effect of gravity on some TRANS-Neptunian objects, but then scientists are unable to explain why the orbits of these objects have the same slope.

And yet, both models have a drawback. To play them observed effect anomalies in the orbits of some of the TNO mass of the Kuiper belt should be at least several earth masses. According to the most recent calculations, the mass of the Kuiper belt is only 4 to 10 percent of the earth.

At the same time, according to the formation models of the Solar system, the mass of the Kuiper belt should be significantly higher. According to Sefilyan, to explain the difference may be the fact that to calculate the exact mass of the belt is impossible because of our location, which does not allow to see the whole thing. It is possible, the scientist believes, the Kuiper belt contains much more objects, just to see we not.

“We have no overall picture of the belt, we also do not see direct evidence of “the Ninth planet”, so looking at alternatives. It is also impossible to exclude the possibility that both can be true – the Kuiper belt much more than we see now, and “the Ninth planet” actually exists. With each discovery of a new TRANS-Neptunian object, which has a strange peculiarities, we are getting more information that will ultimately help us to find an explanation for their behavior,” says Sefilyan.

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