Dust in the Winged
I’ve been hinting in recent blogs that I have been developing a new idea about the Planet X phenomenon. I’ve held off writing about it for a while because I wanted to try to present the idea at a conference and gauge the reaction to the idea. That opportunity presented itself at the ‘Il Ritorno di Planet X Nibiru’ conference held in Rome on 29th May 2016, at which I was the keynote international speaker (1). I presented two one-hour talks, and during the second one I discussed the arguments behind this new idea, complete with some explanatory slides. There were some light-bulb moments among the delegates, I’m happy to say, and so I think it’s a good time to present part of this thesis in a very concise way here, for general consideration. A more detailed examination of this idea may be the subject of a future book.
Regular readers will recall my discussions about interplanetary and interstellar dust in recent blog pieces (2,3) following the announcement by Caltech scientists about the proposed Planet Nine (4). I had first proposed the role of dust as a ‘cloak’ or ‘shroud’ around Planet X in January 2015 (5). When I wrote these items, I had a broader concept in mind, but limited the discussion at that time to a scientific analysis of whether a planetary object in interstellar space might attract a dust nebula around it. Indeed, I wrote a scientific paper to present this question to a more specialised audience (6). I had hoped to get the paper published into scientific archives, like ArXiv, but quickly realised how difficult that was for a non-academic. A significant barrier exists, like some kind of academic firewall, which ‘weeds out’ papers arriving from freelance writers and thinkers. I tried to approach a number of academics working in the fields concerned, in the hope of establishing a discourse and thus, eventually, a ‘recommendation’ to breach the firewall. Besides some helpful suggestions from a astrophysicist friend of mine, I heard nothing back from any of them. As a result, I haven’t been able to test these ideas, or subject them to ‘peer-review’ – mostly because, obviously, I don’t qualify as a ‘peer’.
So, let’s assume that I’m on to something here, and see where it takes us. There’s been plenty of opportunity for counter-arguments, but there has been none thus far.
My basic argument runs like this: There is a different mechanism for dust removal within the heliosheath than there is beyond it, in interstellar space. We, as humans, have never travelled beyond the heliosheath to know what conditions are like beyond it, and we have not been able to image dark planets in interstellar space. Early probes, like the Voyagers, are currently in the process of moving beyond the heliopause into interstellar space, but the detection and communication systems on board these old craft is insufficient to give us a strong picture of what’s going on out there. Beyond detailed data from other sources suggesting an anomalous croissant-like shape for the heliosphere (7,8), and vague but tantalizing descriptions about the presence of magnetised ‘interstellar fluff’ beyond (9), we really don’t know what lies beyond within the interstellar medium. Instead, there are a great many assumptions that things work pretty much the same in interstellar space as they do within the heliospheric bubble; the latter of which is almost exclusively our domain of understanding. These kind of a priori assumptions may be leading us astray.
Our detailed knowledge of planets is limited to those located within the heliosphere; Mercury through Neptune, the dwarf planets like Ceres and Pluto, as well as several distant Kuiper Belt Objects like Eris and 2007 OR10 (10). These objects exist within the ‘rarefied atmosphere’ of the heliosphere, where interplanetary dust is constantly removed over time and thus prevented from accumulating around these gravitational features to any great degree. The Sun, through the joint action of its charged solar wind and its dominant gravitational pull, creates drag on the interplanetary dust which then slowly spirals down into the Sun. It effectively acts like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, keeping its home free of dust (11).
How Physicists Think
It’s generally assumed, a priori, that planets beyond the heliopause would be similarly clear of dust accumulation. It’s assumed that planets beyond the heliopause would be as ‘viewable’ as those within. In other words, that the laws of physics pertain equally to the relative brightness of dark objects within and beyond the Sun’s magnetic field. So, astrophysicists trying to gauge the theoretical apparent magnitude of Planet X (or, for that matter, a Planet Nine body) apply distance, size and albedo (or reflectivity) to their calculations, just like with the other solar system planets. These calculations come up with figures that are within range of current detection techniques. Yet there are no candidate objects recognised by the mainstream. So, they wonder how it’s possible that Planet X has avoided direct detection given the considerable surveying power at their disposal.
What they do not consider is that there may be some added complexity at work, skewing the actual numbers.
And why should they have to? After all, until the recent realisation that Planet X is for real took hold in the scientific community, scientists didn’t really have to deal with such problems. All of the predicted objects they had attempted to observe, based upon supporting indirect evidence, lay within the heliosphere. So naturally they obeyed the rules. The absence of ‘mythical’ planets like Nibiru, Planet X, Nemesis, etc, in visible and infra-red sky surveys could be simply put down to the lack of their actual existence. It was not necessary to explain their absence from the data. Only researchers like myself, and a few die-hard astronomers who kept an open mind about Planet X, ever needed to ponder these issues.
Several fringe Planet X researchers have proposed imaginative ideas to explain the gap between the predicted body and the (thus far) dearth of extra planets: Exotic matter, cloaking devices, Dyson spheres, dimensional disruption, conspiracy. I’m sure there are others. These seem to me to be an unnecessary leap. instead, could simple dust prove the answer? I believe so.
Beyond the heliopause, the mechanism for removing interstellar dust from the outer solar system works much slower than within the heliosphere. The galactic stream is far less efficient than the Sun at clearing ‘fluff’ out. Mechanisms for the clearance of interstellar medium have been proposed, although data from various spacecraft has shown that there is actually an anomalously high level of large dust grains penetrating the outer solar system (12), the source of which remains unresolved (13).
There’s plenty of interstellar medium around between the stars, too. Anyone who has viewed the beautiful images of nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope will recognise the immensity and grandeur of these dusty structures. Gigantic molecular clouds, ‘local fluff’, dark nebulae and the more traditional star-forming regions, accrue as a result of the destruction and recycling of stars.
The Sun, like all stars, bobs about as it cycles around the galactic core, moving in and out of these various regions, with their varied density of interstellar matter. As we sometimes hear, the heliosphere offers the fragile Earth some protection from such rich zones of matter, as well as tempestuous novae, etc. But what of planets beyond this zone? Are they not rudely exposed to the flotsam that drifts on the galactic breeze? If sizeable enough, might these ‘interstellar’ planets, located in the outer solar system beyond the heliopause, not pick up some of this material into their area of influence?
Much of that matter will fall to the planet’s surface. Much of it will organise itself in time into rings, and eventually accrete into planetessimals (14). But astrophysicists who study the formation of planets from protoplanetary disks note the complexity inherent in these dusty rings and shrouds. Collisions between haphazardly orbiting bodies can lead to a cascade of destruction which offsets the natural drive towards order, as noted with the substantial nebula of gas surrounding Formalhaut b (15). Perhaps this balance is undermined in interstellar space where that cleaning mechanism, so important within the heliosphere, is significantly less powerful. A more chaotic environment may prevent the attainment of order, and prevent the accumulating dust from settling.
What I’m proposing is that planets located beyond the heliosphere are routinely subject to different environments and mechanisms, which allow them to accrue dusty nebulae around them. It has been shown that dense dust clouds are more resistant to the sweeping effect of the galactic stream than looser collections of gas (16), and so it seems likely that a dense local nebula held in place by the gravitational and magnetic influence of a substantial inner planet would retain its identity over time. These localised nebulae act in the same way as their larger cousins – holding in the heat of the interior objects, and shielding planets from view.
Assuming that I’m on to something here, let’s consider what the shape of that dense local nebula might be. As we have seen, the shape of the heliosphere has not turned out to be comet-like (as theoretically predicted), but instead croissant-shaped, featuring two substantial but relatively short jet-streams (17). As the NASA website points out (8), this bow-shock shape is similar to that of the variable binary star BZ Cam’s unusually strong stellar wind as it ploughs through surrounding interstellar gas (18).
(BZ Cam’s Bow Shock Image Credit: R. Casalegno, C. Conselice et al., WIYN, NOAO, MURST, NSF (18))
So, in these cases, the movement of a substantial magnetosphere through the galactic interstellar medium stream moulds the heliosphere into a crescent shape, rather than a long-tailed comet shape.
(The yellow shape is the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere and the local interstellar medium. The gray lines are the solar magnetic field lines and the red lines are the interstellar magnetic field (8). Credits: Merav Opher (17))
I think this same effect would be seen with a dense localised nebula surrounding a substantial planet located beyond the heliosphere. Massive star-forming nebulae often feature ‘fingers’, stretched out by jet streams and powerful stellar winds from young stars. These features indicate the complexity of forces at work within these nebulae. On a lesser scale, I think that a raft of forces are at play within local nebulae that I think immerse planets beyond the heliopause. These include the galactic tide, the magnetosphere of the planet, the forces at work at the termination shock of the heliopause, and a dynamic interplay of dust accretion and collisional cascades of planetessimals located within this complex environment.
Again, in the absence of the dust-removal mechanisms triggered by the Sun, I believe that the ‘normal’ dispersal of accruing interstellar dust is absent, which plays a part in the appearance of these outer solar system structures. Specifically, I suggest that a substantial Planet X object, which permanently resides beyond the heliosphere, might have wrapped itself in a dust nebula that takes on the shape of a winged disk. Symbols of the winged disk from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are generally thought to depict a solar deity, but perhaps their visual identity more closely resembles a different phenomenon. I can easily imagine how the complex dust nebula I have argued for here could become a symbolic winged disk. A substantial Planet X body may well have a contingent of moons/planetessimals as well, which would add to the complexity of this shape, perhaps taking the form of the snake-like uraei often noted in ancient Winged Disk symbolism.
Inevitably, questions arise from such speculations. For instance, such a model would only work for a Planet X body which remains permanently beyond the heliopause. This is necessarily the case because once such a body traversed the termination shock and entered the heliosphere, the dust cloud would be subject to the disruptive force of the solar wind. Such a force would exacerbate the crescent-shape of the nebula, as it became driven back by the solar wind (like the coma of an outgassing comet). But, inevitably, the dust cloud would dissipate, particularly true if the Planet X body was subject to frequent perihelion passages. If this object is to remain well beyond the 80AU termination shock, then it could not be visible from Earth at any time during its orbit. Only a closer inspection of this phenomenon would reveal its true appearance.
The proposed Planet Nine body is not thought to get anywhere near the heliopause, and would therefore not be subject to the forces of the solar wind. If my proposal proves correct, then Planet Nine is shrouded in an immense crescent-shaped cloud of dust which obfuscates its appearance both in visible light and infra-red. The usual calculations about its apparent magnitude simply do not apply. Furthermore, we are searching for a nebulous phenomenon rather than a pinpoint light-source, undermining standard presumptions about how this object will appear, and how easily it can be imaged.
My hypothesis has wider implications than simply what is happening in the outer solar system beyond the heliopause. It is already the case that planetary scientists are puzzled over how a Planet Nine body might have come about in the first place (19). The general model about planet formation fails to deliver such far-flung worlds, requiring astrophysicists to devise chaotic, fluctuating conditions within the early solar system to tease out such bodies from their calculations. The problem they have is simple enough: the density of the protoplanetary disks circulating young stars is insufficient at these distances to form substantial planets.
My hypothesis side-steps this issue by allowing for life-long planetary formation beyond the heliopause. Clearly, the general model still stands for planets forming from protoplanetary disks early in the life of a given star. But in addition to this, I consider it possible that additional substantial bodies can accrete over time beyond the heliopause, driven by irregular influxes of interstellar material as the Sun moves through regions of varying density (note also that the heliopause is a dynamic boundary, capable of being pushed back by strengthening external forces (20)). To look at this a slightly different way, where astrophysicists consider the statistically unlikely capture of exoplanets from passing stars, I’m thinking about the external capture of parts of immense dust clouds as the Sun moves through them, leading to continuous planetary evolution beyond the heliopause over the lifetime of the solar system.
If this is the case, then one would imagine that there would be a considerable bounty of exoplanets lying in wide orbits around medium to old-aged stars. Assuming that they don’t take on actual brown dwarf proportions (i.e. >18Mj, which would drive out the dust through their own diminished stellar winds) these distant planets would each be wrapped in their own nebula shrouds, obfuscating their appearance and heat signatures. A substantial bulk of dark planets may thus lie hidden from detection, contributing towards the missing mass within the galaxy (current models don’t allow for such far-flung worlds, and so don’t build them into calculations of projected overall mass).
Indeed, perhaps even the majority of planets lie beyond their parent star’s magnetic boundaries, completely counter to the normal notions of planetary formation based upon protoplanetary disk evolution alone? Coming back to my analogy about the Sun’s clean house, I wonder whether beyond its walls lies a dusty garden full of dark, shrouded figures?
There is something else I raised in Rome that I have yet to share online, and will do so in the future, no doubt. Stay tuned!
23rd June 2016
11) J. Klačka “Comparison of the solar/stellar wind and the Poynting-Robertson effect in secular orbital evolution of dust particles”, December 2013, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 436 (3): 2785-2792