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No. 136: JUL-AUG 2001

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2000 CR105 and Planet X

2000 CR105 is a supercomet some 400 kilometers in diameter. It is one of hundreds of icy TNOs (Trans-Neptunian Objects) that normally populate the Kuiper Belt girdling the solar system just beyond the orbit of Neptune. The problem is that 2000 CR105 is not normal. Its orbit is highly eccentric, with an aphelion 13 times farther out than Neptune's. This massive object (probably mostly ice) takes 3175 years to circle the sun. 2000 CR105 is real; it has been photographed; it is not Mirror Matter; no one blames any terrestrial extinctions on it. Nevertheless, we can and must wonder how its orbit became so badly distorted.

Often in past years, whenever astronomers detected cometary orbits gone awry, they invoked Planet X; that is, some undiscovered massive body plying the outer reaches of the solar system. Indeed, there have been several intense and unsuccessful searches for Planet X over the years. (See Chapter AX in The Sun and Solar System Debris.)

History seems to be repeating itself with 2000 CR105. Astronomer B. Gladman proposes that 2000 CR105 was forced into its present eccentric orbit by an encounter with a Mars-size Planet X that now orbits the sun at a distance about 15 times that of Neptune. From the standpoint of celestial mechanics, this perturbation of 2000 CR105's orbit is certainly within the realm of possibility. But two associated problems worry astronomers:

(1) The accepted theory for the formation of the solar system does not countenance the formation of planets the size of Mars so far away from the sun; and

(2) If this newly postulated Planet X truly exists, why has it not ejected more 2000 CR105s from the well-populated Kuiper Belt over the billions of years Planet X has been perturbing the Belt ?

(Schilling, Govert; "Comet's Course Hints at Mystery Planet," Science, 292: 33, 2001.)

From Science Frontiers #136, JUL-AUG 2001. � 2001 William R. Corliss

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