I picked up on the Matese/Whitmire prediction of a ninth planet–a superjovian world far out in the Oort cometary cloud named by them Tyche back in November–long before the current unexpected furor. Phil Plait’s take on the subject over at his blog Bad Astronomy, skeptical but open-minded towards the claim but hostile towards the misleading furor in the press–no, Matese and Whitmire specifically say that they hope to find evidence soon–is something worth following.
Why all this fuss over a ninth planet? (Yes, I don’t include Pluto. Is there any reason why I should include one of the larger dwarf planets?) The idea of finding something cool about our solar system is one thing. Me, I suspect that the thing in the background that made Tyche an international press sensation is our continued digestion of the Kepler NASA mission‘s astounding success in finding well over a thousand planets. Suggestions last summer that Kepler had been successful turn out to have been decided understatements, complete with discoveries of remarkable planetary systems like that of Kepler-11 which turn out to be as densely packed as any science fiction planetary system. Kepler has shown us that our wildest speculations about unlikely objects in unlikely configurations can be fulfilled. Next to six rocky planets orbiting in a space that–in our system–would be included between the orbits of Earth and Mars, what’s wrong with a superjovian orbiting as far from us as Proxima Centauri from Alpha Centauri A/B?