Japanese scientists eye new planet
Thu, Feb 28, 2008

TOKYO, JAPAN - SCIENTISTS at a Japanese university said on Thursday they believed another planet up to two-thirds the size of the Earth was orbiting in the far reaches of the solar system.

The researchers at Kobe University in western Japan said that theoretical calculations using computer simulations led them to conclude it was only a matter of time before the mysterious 'Planet X' was found.

'The possibility is high that a yet unknown, planet-class celestial body, measuring 30 percent to 70 per cent of the Earth's mass, exists in the outer edges of the solar system,' Kobe University said in a statement.

'If research is conducted on a wide scale, the planet is likely to be discovered in less than 10 years,' it said.

The research, led by Kobe University professor Tadashi Mukai along with researcher Patryk Lykawka, will be published in the April issue of the US-based Astronomical Journal.

The study comes two years after school textbooks had to be rewritten when the Pluto was booted out of the list of planets.

Pluto was discovered by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 in the so-called Kuiper belt, a chain of icy debris in the outer reaches of the solar system.

In 2006, nearly a decade after Tombaugh's death, the International Astronomical Union ruled that the celestial body was merely a dwarf planet in the cluttered Kuiper belt.

The astronomers said that Pluto's oblong orbit overlapped with that of Neptune, excluding it from being a planet.

It defined the solar system as consisting solely of the classical set of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Planet X - so called by scientists as it is yet unfound - would have an elliptical solar orbit like Earth, the Kobe University team said, estimating its radius was 15 to 26 billion kilometres.

The team noted that more than 1,100 celestial bodies have been found in the outer reaches of the solar system since the mid-1990s.

The researchers set up a theoretical model looking at how the remote area of solar system would have evolved over the past four billion years.

'In coming up with an explanation for the celestial bodies, we thought it would be most natural to assume the existence of a yet unknown planet,' the statement said. -- AFP


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