But Ann-Marie Madigan, an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, has a different argument. This minor planet orbits Earth's sun at a distance of 8 billion miles but appears separated from the rest of the solar system.

"We can solve a lot of these problems just by taking into account that question". But Madigan and her colleagues calculated that the orbits of Sedna and its ilk may result from these bodies jostling against each other and space debris in the outer solar system.

In 2016, astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown announced that a distant undiscovered planet could have created the unusual signatures of some TNO orbits in the Kuiper Belt and sent Sedna and other detached objects out to even more distant realms.

Planet Nine was first hypothesised in 2014, when researchers noticed that some of the space rocks out past Neptune, known as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), have unusually looping orbits, "detached" from the strong gravitational influence of the larger gas giants in the Solar System.

One particularly vexing object is a minor planet called Sedna.

The researchers calculated the mass of hundreds of trans-Neptunian objects and discovered that it wouldn't be a stretch for similar bodies to create enough gravitational pull to yank objects as large as dwarf planets into freaky orbits.

The skeptics include Madigan and Fleisig, who, along with study co-author Alexander Zderic, a UC Boulder graduate student, think they've found an alternate solution to the weird orbital signatures.

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Artist's rendition on the dwarf planet Sedna, which looks reddish in color in telescope images. For some years now, researchers have speculated that something is pulling these objects away from the plane where the system's major planets are orbiting, giving them a downward inclination of 30 degrees.

Fleisig ran a computer model for the orbits of these odd distant objects and uncovered that they move a lot like hands on a clock.

"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", Jacob Fleisig, an undergraduate at CU Boulder and lead author of the study, tells Bennett.

The researchers presented their findings today at a press briefing at the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which runs from June 3-7 in Denver, Colorado. But because the largest objects are hurled into the most eccentric orbits, they become more hard to find, the researchers said.

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

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. "While we're not able to say that this pattern killed the dinosaurs, it's tantalizing", says Fleisig.

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


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