Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Science fun for February 2011:
Tyche, the mysterious giant planet
I've seen this story floating around some websites I read, and I find it fascinating. There may be another planet in our solar system. Not some tiny rock like Pluto or Sedna, this new hypothetical fellow traveler Tyche is four times bigger than Jupiter, the biggest planet in our neck of the woods, so it may be a brown dwarf, a small sun that has burned out.
How can something so big still be uncertain? It's really far away. The distance from the earth to the sun is called an Astronomical Unit or A.U. for short. Pluto, which has a very elliptical orbit, is sometimes as close as 29 A.U. and sometimes as far away as 49 A.U.
Tyche, if it exists, is 15,000 A.U. away. The handy picture above is NOT drawn to scale as far as the orbit of Tyche is concerned. It's speculated to be out in the Oort Cloud, the asteroids, rocks and comets that make up the very edge of our solar system.
The guys claiming the discovery are John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to them, it might take about two years of study of data that has already been gathered by NASA to prove their conjecture.
I have to admit, this is kind of cool. I'm not as hip to astronomy as a nerd should be, so I didn't even know about the Oort Cloud until yesterday. Now, I'm looking for ways to pepper it into my conversation.
Oort Cloud. Say it today to someone you love.
And to add a little bit of politics to a completely apolitical topic, I found this stuff on Talking Points Memo, a left-wing politics blog, the Huffington Post, a left-leaning general news source and Slate magazine, another website leaning left of center. I couldn't find it on any right wing websites.
The evidence is strong. Our side really does want to learn how the universe works. Their side kinda likes sticking their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Guys like Bill O'Reilly don't even know that Mars has two moons, so a giant planet orbiting the sun a long way away is completely off his radar.