Washington Post Staff Writer
from PlanetX-150M Website
A heavenly body possibly as large as the giant planet Jupiter and possibly so close to Earth that it would be part of this solar system has been found in the direction of the constellation Orion by an orbiting telescope aboard the U.S. infrared astronomical satellite.
The most fascinating explanation of this mystery body, which is so cold it casts no light and has never been seen by optical telescopes on Earth or in space, is that it is a giant gaseous planet as large as Jupiter and as close to Earth as 50 trillion miles.
While that may seem like a great distance in earthbound terms, it is a stone’s throw in cosmological terms, so close in fact that it would be the nearest heavenly body to Earth beyond the outermost planet Pluto.
The mystery body was seen twice by the infrared satellite as it scanned the northern sky from last January to November, when the satellite ran out of the supercold helium that allowed its telescope to see the coldest bodies in the heavens.
The second observation took place six months after the first and suggested the mystery body had not moved from its spot in the sky near the western edge of the constellation Orion in that time.
Whatever it is, Houck said, the mystery
body is so cold its temperature is no more than 40 degrees above
“absolute” zero, which is 456° Fahrenheit below zero. The telescope
aboard IRAS is cooled so low and is so sensitive it can “see”
objects in the heavens that are only 20 degrees above absolute zero.
When IRAS scientists first saw the mystery body and calculated that it could be as close as 50 trillion miles, there was some speculation that it might be moving toward Earth.
December 31, 1983, Saturday,
Conceivably, it could be the 10th planet astronomers have searched for in vain. It also might be a Jupiter-like star that started out to become a star eons ago but never got hot enough like the sun to become a star.
Neugebauer and Houck “hope” the mystery body is a distant galaxy either so young that its stars have not begun to shine or so surrounded by dust that its starlight cannot penetrate the shroud.
The next step in pinpointing what the mystery body is, Neuegebauer said, is to search for it with the world’s largest optical telescopes.
Already, the 100-inch diameter telescope at Cerro del Tololo in Chile has begun its search and the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Mountain in California has earmarked several nights next year to look for it.
If the body is close enough and emits even a hint of light, the Palomar telescope should find it since the infrared satellite has pinpointed its position.
The distance from earth of a mysterious object in space was reported incorrectly in some editions yesterday. The correct figure is 50 billion miles.