Could space telescope WISE reveal Planet X? Astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire hope so
By Michael Sheridan

Our solar system may soon consist of nine planets again.

Scientists say that lurking in the shadows of deep space, a gas giant is hiding beyond Pluto - which was demoted to a "dwarf planet" in 2006 - and orbiting our sun.

The claim, initially made 12 years ago, could get a big boost when data from the NASA space telescope, WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer), is released in April. At least, that's the hope of two astrophysicists - John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana - who first proposed the planet's existence.

"If it does, John and I will be doing cartwheels," Whitmire told England's The Independent. "And that's not easy at our age."

The pair published a paper in the February edition of the scientific journal Icarus, a publication by the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences, discussing their theorized planet.

Tyche, named for the Greek god of luck, is sometimes referred to as Planet X and believed to be hidden within the Oort Cloud, a theoretical collection of space debris such as comets that supposedly surrounds our solar system.

The theory holds that the mysterious planet would be about 375 times farther from the sun than Pluto. It would also likely be a gas giant with an atmosphere not unlike that of Jupiter and a temperature of around minus 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

"You'd also expect it to have moons," Whitmire said. "All the outer planets have them."

However, should WISE indicate a potential planet does exist within the Oort Cloud, that doesn't automatically mean our solar system will have a new sibling. That decision would come from the International Astronomical Union.

Among the issues to be considered would be how the planet formed, and if it was born along with the other planets or merely adopted from another system.

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