Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Planet Nine: Mike Bara in an eccentric orbit

        Anyone with a smidgen of interest in astronomy cannot have missed the recent announcement by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of Caltech, of a purely theoretical Neptune-sized planet in a highly eccentric 15,000-year orbit stretching way beyond the Kuiper Belt. Here's the article by Eric Hand in Science, and here's the diagram sketching the six Kuiper-belt objects whose orbits cluster in a way that Batygin and Brown say needs explaining.

credit: Science magazine

        It's very important to understand that "planet nine" has not actually been observed, and may never be. Claims for a Planet X have a long and erratic history.note 1 However, I admit that it is possible that the WISE survey could have missed such an object -- theoretically, WISE could have detected a Jupiter-sized planet up to a light-year from the Sun or a Saturn-sized object out to 10,000 AU, but if P9 is at or near the outer reach of its orbit, it could just possibly have slipped by.

        Mike Bara's blog today, predictably, is one long self-congratulatory TOLDYA. Here's the meat of it:
"In my second book The Choice from New Page Books, I made a series of predictions that I stated would validate or invalidate the basic thesis in the book. Foremost among them was the specific prediction that in the years after it's publication, one or possibly two gas-giant planets would be found far beyond the orbit of Pluto .... [Brown and Batygin] estimate the planet has an orbital period of between 10 and 20 thousand years. In The Choice I placed it at 13,000 years and 550 AU, or 50 billion miles."
        That passage has only a modicum of truthiness. The basic thesis of the book is "Using conscious thought and physics of the mind to reshape the world." The possible existence of P9 has nothing to do with that somewhat sophomoric idea, I suggest.

        It's true that Bara did discuss undiscovered outer planets, on pp. 176-183. However, it's not his theory. It's Richard Hoagland's theory, recycled from the book they wrote together, Dark Mission. Moreover, the object that he calls Nemesis and describes as 550 AU out in a 13,000-year orbit (p. 181) is not a planet at all, but a hypothetical brown dwarf forming a loose binary with the Sun. Bara makes this even more entertaining by suggesting that gravitational attraction is too weak to keep Nemesis and the Sun in partnership, but of course "there is no reason to think that the same unseen force (torsion) that holds everything together isn't also keeping this object linked to our Sun." Oh brilliant -- a former CAD-CAM technician with no training in physics sweeps aside the entire basis of planetary astronomy just like that.

        The brown dwarf pseudo-object was originally dreamed up to account for the so-called "Pioneer anomaly" -- an (at the time) unexplained deviation from the nominal trajectory of the two Pioneer spacecraft as they departed the known solar system. Mike Bara doesn't pay enough attention to understand that the so-called anomaly has now been explained by anisotropic radiationnote 2, and the need for a brown dwarf has vanished.

        Mike Bara, perhaps, should read his own text more diligently before doing the toldya dance.

see also Stuart Robbins' blog on this topic.

[1] Here's a list of trans-Neptunian objects.  Wow!!! Lots and lots. We don't hear much about Tyche these days -- once a favorite of pseudo-astronomers.

[2] Heat radiation that isn't the same in all directions.


George Benkel said...

I think you mean "way out into the Oort Cloud", instead of the 30 to 50 AU Kuiper Belt.

Dee said...

What would be then the exact, defining difference between some very low-mass, ultra-cool brown dwarf and a gas giant? In terms of detection of course. Or is it the "loose binary" statement which is more problematic? I suppose even the tiniest brown dwarf would show a clear gravitational pull on more orbits than those of just a few rocks?

I suppose one could say that Bara tried to create one "cosmic" speculative laymen theory which requires a couple of major changes to current scientific leading theories to stand some chance. In some way it's one giant betting game against "established" ideas. And everyone can then "buy in" to this wild bet when purchasing the book or promoting any of its subculture. Or just even entertaining it I suppose.


expat said...

George: Yes, I've edited. Thanks.

Dee: It's a fair question. This document says:

The distinction between hydrogen-fusing stars and brown dwarfs is well defined. But what distinguishes brown dwarfs from planets, given their similar sizes and atmospheric properties? Astronomers vigorously debating that semantic question fall mainly in two camps. One advocates a definition based on formation—a brown dwarf condenses out of giant molecular clouds, whereas a planet forms via core accretion in a circumstellar debris disk. The other focuses on interior physics: A brown dwarf must be heavier than the mass threshold for core fusion of any element, roughly 13 Jupiter masses. Pluto’s recent demotion has focused attention on the ambiguity of the term “planet” in the solar system. Brown dwarfs are forcing us to reexamine a related ambiguity in a galactic context.

Binaryspellbook said...

Typical Bara. If you point out one of his many mathematical errors he will call you a homo out to get him S.O.B. If it becomes clear that one of his many theories are just plain wrong. He will deny being wrong and blame the powers that be for covering up "his truth" because they are scared of it.

Same shit will happen with Planet 9. If it is discovered, Bara will claim a victory, and begin the preen-fest and yet another search for a mate. If Planet 9 is not found and another explanation that does not require a ninth planet is put forth. Bara will claim a cover-up and a victory. It's always a win-win situation for pseudoscience.