Interstellar Planet Formation

Continuing the discussion from last month’s blog about planetessimal-building conditions in space beyond the solar system’s heliopause boundary (1).  In my February paper, I discussed anomalous results which had come back from various space probes regarding the influx of large grain interstellar dust into the heliosphere (2).  More on this in a moment.  A correspondent of mine had noted similarities between what I had been writing about and previous work by Paul LaViolette, who had written about the origins of the dust picked up by the Ulysses spacecraft:

“I would suggest that the dust originates from a circumsolar dust sheath that is concentrated toward the plane of the ecliptic in a fashion similar to the disk girdling the star Beta Pictoris and that is co-moving with the Sun. Infrared observations confirm the existence of dust sheaths around other stars in the solar neighborhood, leading to the conclusion that our Solar System is similarly shrouded.” (3)

The 20 million year old star Beta Pictoris provides astronomers with the best example of a gas giant exoplanet found orbiting within an evolving proto-planetary disk, made all the more dramatic by its side-on view and the brightness of scattered light from the revolving disk:

“In 1984 Beta Pictoris was the very first star discovered to host a bright disc of light-scattering circumstellar dust and debris. Ever since then Beta Pictoris has been an object of intensive scrutiny with Hubble and with ground-based telescopes. Hubble spectroscopic observations in 1991 found evidence for extrasolar comets frequently falling into the star.” (4)

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Massive Planet X Now Urgently Sought by Top Planet-Hunters

We seem to be getting very close now to a discovery of a massive Planet X in the outer solar system.  I heard this report on the evening BBC news, a slot which indicates the seriousness with which this subject is now being taken by the scientific community:

“American astronomers say they have strong evidence that there is a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond even the dwarf world Pluto.  The team, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has no direct observations to confirm its presence just yet.  Rather, the scientists make the claim based on the way other far-flung objects are seen to move.  But if correct, the putative planet would have 10 times the mass of Earth.

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