Rodney Gomes is an astronomer at the National Observatory of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. He says that a planet that is simply too far out to be seen with telescopes, at least so far, just has to be there because of gravitational anomalies with the orbits of other objects. Beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune is the Kuiper belt which features who knows how many small icy masses, some which at least qualify for dwarf planet status. Gomes and other astronomers have determined that another planet must be out there to explain why the bodies in the Kuiper belt behave the way that they do.
Just for reference, Pluto is part of the Kuiper belt. Pluto was famously recognized as the ninth planet in the solar system, but recently it was downgraded to dwarf planet status. As for the Kuiper belt, Pluto reigns as one of the largest objects. It measures 1400 miles across. More objects in the Kuiper belt are being discovered all the time. The problems with the orbits of the Kuiper objects isn’t going to take a little dwarf like Pluto to be hiding out there. Gomes believes that it would take a planet four times larger than the Earth to cause the gravitational differences. That’s basically another Neptune size-wise hanging out beyond the Kuiper belt. But there are other scenarios that might work as well. An object about half of Earth’s size could pull it off if it had the right orbit.
And for the conspiracy crowd, this could be the biggest news in a long time. And just in time for 2012, no less. Gomes has indicated that the mysterious unseen planet could be a “rogue planet.” The concept of a rogue planet is that a planet somehow escaped the solar system’s gravity but was later recaptured and sucked back in. The idea of nomad planets wandering deep space was previously only something for the science-fiction racks at the bookstore, but recent reports have indicated that these are very real and may be more common that astronomers once surmised. The legend of Nibiru, the rogue planet re-entering the solar system, has been fodder for conspiracy theorists for years. This could be the real thing, at last.
Don’t be waiting for an announcement of a new planet and for a debate on the name for this one. There are tons of things that have to happen before this supposed deep-space object would be indoctrinated as a bonafide new planet of the solar system. First of all, someone will have to find it. As in, really find it, not just mathematically prove that it must be there. The search is on, no doubt, as astronomers race to be the one to discover something that will forever put them in the history books.
As for the Nibiru theories, this rogue planet may be interesting, but the very data that allowed it to be discovered also proves that it is most definitely not cascading toward Earth or the sun. After all, if it were, the gravitational anomalies would be much more confusing. But expect the Nibiru debate to heat up in light of this new discovery for space exploration.