Planet Nine could be a cluster of asteroids sending comets Earth's way

'Planet 9' might really be a gang of asteroids shooting comets at us

'Planet 9' might really be a gang of asteroids shooting comets at us

The outer reaches of our solar system are populated with more than 2,300 celestial bodies floating around in a distant realm known as the Kuiper Belt, which lies just beyond Neptune's orbit. The huge number of these trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) makes it computationally intensive to model the evolution of their orbits. Sedna circles the sun at a distance of almost 8 billion miles and doesn't even come near solar system's giant planets.

The giant, hidden planet might be 10 times more massive than Earth - and on an orbit which takes 10,000 or 20,000 years to go round the sun.

Dr Madigan added: "The picture we draw of the outer solar system in textbooks may have to change".

Small but rowdy space rocks pushing and jostling one another may have created the unusual orbits some astronomers cite as the signature of the hypothesized "Planet Nine", a new study suggests.

Dwarf planets like Sedna, reports Cnet, have odd orbits around the Sun and one of the reasons for this could be a yet-to-be-seen ninth planet that is large enough, or with enough mass to exert gravitational tugs on them.

Fleisig and other researchers used computer simulations to find that these small, icy objects orbit the sun at a quicker clip than bigger ones like Sedna.

Even if the study doesn't strike down the concept of Planet 9, it could help figure out another big mystery.

The natural process is that massive minor planets are naturally detached by the interaction of different gravities from the objects.

An artist's impression of the dwarf planet Sedna, some 12.9 billion kilometres (8 billion miles) from the sun, along with a hypothetical moon.

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Researchers found that small, icy rocks in deep space seem to orbit the Sun faster than their substantially larger neighbours like Sedna.

He said: "You see a pileup of the obits of small objects to one side of the sun".

'These orbits crash into the bigger body, and what happens is those interactions will change its orbit from an oval shape to a more circular shape'.

This theory matches a 2012 finding showing the larger a detached TNO becomes, the more distant its orbit gets from the Sun. This is what happened in Sedna's case, says the team, who puts the extreme orbits of these objects exclusively down to the power of collective gravity. These objects look separated from the rest of the neighborhood, something that many think could be the outcome of the gravitational pull of another massive planet, famously called Planet Nine, hiding somewhere beyond Neptune.

"Planet Nine explains this really well, and we do not", Madigan said.

Remarkably, these relatively insignificant objects may also be culpable in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

These groupings of distant asteroids and other small objects could also interact with comets lurking out on the chilled edges of our solar system, tightening and widening their orbits over and over again.

It's not impossible one of these caused the collision which wiped out the dinosaurs, the researchers said. "While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs", Fleisig added, "it's tantalizing".

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