Is there a long-lost fifth gas giant of our solar system?

Is there a long-lost fifth gas giant of our solar system?


Was our solar system once home to a fifth gas-giant? An astronomer from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas believes it might have been.

First, it isn’t entirely unusual for planets to be ejected from planetary systems. In fact, astronomers think one or more planets may have been kicked from a system when there are hot-Jupiter exoplanets orbiting their parent start from an unusually close distance.. Usually only a fraction of the distance that separates Mercury from the Sun. Most think these planets likely formed much further out than their rocky counterparts, but were somehow sent inwards to the inner solar system, booting out the unfortunate planets that lie in their path. These rogue (or “free-floating”) planets that are ejected out of their planetary systems wander the space between stars whilst directly orbiting the galaxy itself instead of a parent star. Some of our estimates of these planets say that they could potentially out number the amount of stars 2:1.

(You can check out an article I wrote previously about these rogue planets in the further reading section in the sources.)

David Nesvorny, the leading proponent of the theory believes there is ample evidence to suggest this was the case for our own solar system. Observations he and other astronomers have made about the population of the Kuiper Belt that lies beyond the orbit of Pluto has aided in understanding the chaotic time that occurred when our solar system was just 600 million years old. This time, known as the late heavy bombardment period — played a large role in shaping the orbits of the outer planets in our solar system. Any large perturbations in the orbits of the planets would shake up the Kuiper belt objects, sending forth large asteroids and comets to the inner solar system where they would be met with the terrestrial planets and their moon(s).

There is a problem with our models of this mysterious period of time though, which left behind a scant amount of evidence in the form of impact craters found on the Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. Strangely enough though, our solar system seems to be the exception rather than the rule. All of the planets in our solar system are in wide orbits that are nearly circular in nature, which leaves no room for any planets or their natural satellites to collide with their neighboring planets. Other known planetary systems circling distance stars tend to have orbits that are steeply inclined to one another, whilst our planets are coplanar. This allows some of the Jupiter-sized planets to migrate inwards while the other planets may exist in highly elliptical orbits that regularly take them too close to their parent star or too far, which can freeze and then cook the planet — likely killing off any life before it had the chance to thrive. Slow changes in the orbit of Jupiter, would have undeniable affects of the orbits of the inner planets, which at that time may have included both Uranus and Neptune, as both are way too far from the sun to have been created in their current locations. Both are too massive and not enough time has transpired for the materials to coalesce into the combined 15-Earth mass worlds as we know them. . It’s possible that Earth could have collided with Mars or Venus during this time, which would have been particularly bad news for you and I.

Nesvorny’s colleagues suggested an alternative scenario around this problematic observation. Instead of Jupiter’s orbit slowly changing over a period of several million years, its orbit may have changed rather quickly, which wouldn’t have been as harmful to the terrestrial planets lurking close to the sun. There’s another problem with that theory though.. computer simulations of this scenario, which tries to input the proper data to explain the orbit of the planets we see in our solar system now — shows time and time again that Uranus or Neptune would have been kicked out of our solar system into interstellar space, which obviously isn’t the case as we know now.

So instead, Nesvorny added another large, Neptune-sized body with several dozen times the mass of Earth into the computer simulations. In it, Jupiter jumped correctly into orbit whilst the inner terrestrial bodies remained intact after the hypothetical fifth planet was ejected after a losing tussle with Jupiter.

As for the validity of this theory, it’s hard to say. One of the leading theories that deals with the formation of the moon suggests that a hypothetical planet named Theia collided into Earth some 4 billion years ago, blasting a portion of the Earth apart, leaving behind the raw materials to coalesce into the moon. Though the hypothetical Theia itself wouldn’t have been a fraction as massive as it would need to be to account for the perturbations of the orbits of the outer planets in our solar system. (I wrote an article about this scenario that you can find in the sources section just below)

ANOTHER theory suggests that an undiscovered planet may very well lurk in the outer trenches of our solar system un-noticed as of yet. The elliptical orbit of ‘Planet-x’ would take it so far out from the sun, one orbit around may take thousands of years to complete. (I ALSO wrote an article about this topic. It too can be found in the sources section below) Unfortunately, for the time being, computer simulations are only second best to hopping into a delorian space-ship and witnessing the birth and evolution of our solar system.

By Jaime Trosper


“Solar System May Have Lost Fifth Giant Planet:”

“Was a Giant Planet Ejected From the Solar System?”

Further Reading:

“Did a Planetary Collision Create the Moon?”

“Does Another Planet Lurk in the Outer Trenches of Our Solar System?”

“Rogue Planets Might Outnumber Stars 2:1:”

Image via: Southwest Research Institute
(Here’s a beautiful high-res version:

Messenger spots Mercury performing organic chemistry

Messenger spots Mercury performing organic chemistry

Mercury as seen by the Messenger probe. Signs of water and organic material have now been picked up © Nasa

Nasa’s Messenger spacecraft has uncovered evidence that not only does water ice exist on the surface of the planet Mercury, but in many places this ice appears to be covered in a 10cm-thick layer of soot-like organic material.1,2 Although the discovery of water ice on the closest planet to the sun was not entirely unexpected, the discovery of organic material was and suggests that some interesting chemistry might be taking place on the planet’s inhospitable surface.

Radar observations of Mercury from Earth had already detected bright, highly reflective regions at the planet’s poles, which astronomers thought could well be water ice originally brought by comets. Orbiting at a distance of just 36 million miles from the sun, compared with Earth’s 93 million miles, Mercury’s daytime surface temperature can reach 400°C. In permanent shadows within craters at the planet’s poles, however, the temperature probably doesn’t rise much above -170°C, allowing water ice to exist more or less indefinitely.3

Confirming whether water ice exists on Mercury’ surface is one of the main objectives of Nasa’s Messenger (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft, which was launched in 2004 and went into orbit around the planet in 2011. To this end, its suite of analytical instruments includes the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) and a neutron spectrometer. The MLA can indicate the presence of ice based on its reflection of near-infrared light, while the neutron spectrometer can detect the hydrogen in ice based on the effect it has on the energy level of neutrons blasted off the surface of Mercury by cosmic rays.

Complex picture

In a trio of papers, a group of US and French scientists now report their analysis of the data generated by the MLA and the neutron spectrometer, which reveals that the situation on Mercury is actually more complicated than originally supposed.

When the MLA surveyed Mercury’s north pole, it found bright, reflective regions indicative of surface water ice, but it also found more numerous non-reflective regions that were darker than Mercury’s normal rocky surface. Furthermore, the reflective regions tended to be at cold, high latitudes near the pole, whereas the dark regions tended to be at lower latitudes where the temperature should be too high for surface ice to exist long term.

The neutron spectrometer was unable to resolve individual bright and dark regions. Overall, however, its data indicated the existence of a thick, hydrogen-rich material covered in a thin, less hydrogen-rich layer around Mercury’s north pole.

Organic blanket

Putting these data together, the scientists conclude that the bright regions are pure water ice, while the dark regions consist of water ice covered in a 10cm-thick layer of organic material. This explains why the dark regions are found at warmer latitudes, because the organic material provides a thermal blanket that prevents the ice from subliming. At higher latitudes, however, it’s cold enough in the craters for ice to exist without such a blanket.

‘MLA’s discovery of dark material in those permanently shadowed craters was a big surprise,’ group member David Paige at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Chemistry World. ‘We had expected that Mercury’s subsurface ice deposits were covered by regular Mercury soil, but when this material turned out to be extremely dark, then it got us thinking about what it could possibly be.’

The scientists think that the water and organic material were originally delivered to Mercury’s surface by comets, with both eventually migrating to the cold polar regions where they persisted in craters. Here, powered by high-energy particles in the solar wind, carbon- and nitrogen-containing molecules in the ice undergo chemical reactions, producing increasingly complex, polymer-like organic compounds that form an insulating layer on top of the ice. Determining the precise chemical composition of this layer will require future missions to Mercury, says Paige.

Mark Sephton, professor of organic geochemistry and meteorites at Imperial College London, UK, says the finding of water and organic material on Mercury is ‘an exciting development’ with some important implications for both planetary development and the origin of life. ‘The recognition that planetary surfaces can accumulate volatile materials has implications for theories of how atmospheres and oceans can be formed,’ he explains. ‘Moreover, evidence of a relatively passive surface preserving layers of primitive materials suggests the potential for planetary and lunar records of solar system evolution. Lastly, the presence of organic matter and water reminds us that the raw materials of life are efficiently delivered to many planetary surfaces in the solar system.’


1 D A Paige et al, Science, 2012, DOI: 10.1126/science.1231106

2 G A Neumann et al, Science, 2012, DOI: 10.1126/science.1229764

3 D J Lawrence et al, Science, 2012, DOI: 10.1126/science.1229953

Editors note: Full article can be found here.


Mercury Levels in Tuna ‘Higher than Ever’ – Limit Consumption to Reduce Mercury Exposure, Poisoning

Mercury Levels in Tuna ‘Higher than Ever’ – Limit Consumption to Reduce Mercury Exposure, Poisoning

by Elizabeth Renter

While the FDA claims you can have as much as 12 ounces a week of light tuna and up to 6 ounces of albacore, test results from the Mercury Policy Project (MPP) say these amounts are much too high. Mercury exposure through tuna, the MPP reports, is higher than ever, and kids especially should only be eating the fish on an occasional or even rare basis.

Mercury in Tuna – An Ongoing Issue

According to Medical News Today, the Mercury Policy Project has suggested children under 55 pounds should only have light tuna once per month and should never have albacore tuna. Children over this weight can have light tuna up to twice per month, though less is ideal. The exposure to mercury for children should be of even more concern for pregnant mothers, who can transfer the exposure to their unborn child. This could result in numerous negative effects, with recent research showing that ADHD could be a result of the mother’s mercury levels.

Mercury levels in the U.S. population are measures higher than in Europeans. This is largely because the European Union has tighter restrictions on food and drink. (They also recently set the stage to ban mercury used in dental fillings). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests all Americans test levels of mercury in their bodies.

The FDA’s recommendation on safe tuna eating seems more liberal than that of the Mercury Policy Project. But, this should not be surprising. After all, it’s the same agency that “regulates” Big Pharma and takes a suspicious stance against any natural healing solutions. They are the same agency that refuse to label GMO foods. So, they can’t exactly be trusted as having our wellbeing at the forefront of their concerns.

Fish and shellfish develop an overabundance of methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury, from the water. Different fish have greater concentrations of mercury. Tuna, shark, and swordfish, for example, typically have some of the most. Methylmercury is then passed to humans when they consume the fish. Fish mercury levels are increasingly becoming a problem.

Mercury poisoning from eating too many contaminated foods can cause an abundance of health problems. Those may include: muscle weakness, loss of coordination, loss of peripheral vision, speech and hearing impairments, and red cheeks, nose, and lips in children. Pregnant women in particular are told to steer clear of mercury-containing fish as their children can suffer cognitive impairments and compromised nervous systems.

To keep the body free of mercury, you can avoid these fish altogether. Here are several suggestions for detoxing from mercury exposure, including:

  • Eat fruit and vegetables, skip processed junk, and increase protein intake.
  • Supplement with probiotics.
  • Perform a colon cleanse to ensure regular bowel movements.
  • Consume garlic and cilantro.
  • As a measure of prevention, avoid fish, processed foods, and various consumer products like skin whitening cream, where mercury has been sometimes been found at levels as high as 300,000 parts per million.

Additional Sources:


Chicago Tribune

Read more at: Natural Society

Image credit 

Mercury attacks Aluminum

Mercury attacks Aluminum

A small amount of mercury amalgamates itself into an aluminum I-beam and destroys it from within. Gallium scratched into the surface allows the mercury to penetrate the protective oxide layer that normally surrounds anything made of aluminum.
This is a time-lapse video, the action takes about two hours in real time. The powdery oxide is falling off, what you don’t see is a significant pile of it building up underneath.
This is the original Pop Sci article on the topic: