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Published January 20, 2016 | Published + Submitted
Journal Article Open

Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System


Recent analyses have shown that distant orbits within the scattered disk population of the Kuiper Belt exhibit an unexpected clustering in their respective arguments of perihelion. While several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this alignment, to date, a theoretical model that can successfully account for the observations remains elusive. In this work we show that the orbits of distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) cluster not only in argument of perihelion, but also in physical space. We demonstrate that the perihelion positions and orbital planes of the objects are tightly confined and that such a clustering has only a probability of 0.007% to be due to chance, thus requiring a dynamical origin. We find that the observed orbital alignment can be maintained by a distant eccentric planet with mass ≳ 10 m_⊕ whose orbit lies in approximately the same plane as those of the distant KBOs, but whose perihelion is 180° away from the perihelia of the minor bodies. In addition to accounting for the observed orbital alignment, the existence of such a planet naturally explains the presence of high-perihelion Sedna-like objects, as well as the known collection of high semimajor axis objects with inclinations between 60° and 150° whose origin was previously unclear. Continued analysis of both distant and highly inclined outer solar system objects provides the opportunity for testing our hypothesis as well as further constraining the orbital elements and mass of the distant planet.

Additional Information

© 2016. The American Astronomical Society. Received 2015 November 13; accepted 2016 January 10; published 2016 January 20. We are thankful to Kat Deck, Chris Spalding, Greg Laughlin, Chad Trujillo, and David Nesvorný for inspirational conversations, as well as to Alessandro Morbidelli for providing a thorough review of the paper, which led to a substantial improvement of the manuscript.

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