Planet X? Probably not, despite the buzz

Image: Distant world
An artist’s conception shows the dwarf planet Eris. Astronomers say an even larger world may exist on the solar system’s edge. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Caltech)

An array of radio telescopes in Chile has picked up weird readings that appear to be coming from far-out objects – and that’s sparked a debate over whether they’re previously undetected worlds on the edge of our solar system, brown dwarfs, or just random glitches.

Readings from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, have led to the posting of at least two research papers on the arXiv pre-print server. Historically, some of the studies that scientists post to arXiv go on to make a splash, while others fizzle out.

One study, submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, reports detecting an object in submillimeter wavelengths that’s close to the same position in the sky as the Alpha Centauri binary-star system, and moving along with it.

Could it be yet another star associated with Alpha Centauri? The researchers rule out that scenario on the grounds that it hasn’t been seen before in other wavelengths.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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