Largest planet in the solar system could be about to be discovered - and it's up to four times the size of Jupiter
Tue, 15 Feb 2011 06:58 UTC
Its orbit would be thousands of times further from the Sun than the Earth's - which could explain why it has so far remained undiscovered.
Data which could prove the existence of Tyche, a gas giant in the outer Oort Cloud, is set to be released later this year - although some believe proof has already been garnered by Nasa with its pace telescope, Wise, and is waiting to be pored over.
Prof Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette believes the data may prove Tyche's existence within two years.
He told the Independent: 'If it does, [fellow astrophysicist Prof John Matese] and I will be doing cartwheels. And that's not easy at our age.'
He added he believes it will mainly be made of hydrogen and helium, with an atmosphere like Jupiter's, with spots and rings and clouds, adding: 'You'd also expect it to have moons. All the outer planets have them.'
He believes the planet is so huge, it will have a raised temperature left from its formation that will make it far higher than others, such as Pluto, at -73C, as 'it takes an object this size a long time to cool off'.
However, Tyche - if it exists - should also dislodge comets closer to home, from the inner Oort Cloud, but they have not been seen.
If confirmed, the status and name of the new planet - which would become the ninth and potentially the largest - would then have to be agreed by the International Astronomical Union.
Currently named Tyche, from the Greek goddess that governed the destiny of a city, its name may have to change, as it originated from a theory which has now been largely abandoned.