This researcher thinks a mysterious Planet X is causing mass extinctions on Earth

It’s nice to meet you, too, Planet X...
While the jury is still out on whether or not an undiscovered ninth planet is lurking on the outer edge of our Solar System, a new hypothesis suggests that this potential extra planet could be responsible for mass extinctions here on Earth - including the one that wiped out most of the dinosaurs.
Though Planet Nine has seen a resurgence in the media recently, researchers have actually been looking for a ninth planet in the Solar System for over 100 years. In fact, Daniel Whitmire, a maths instructor from the University of Arkansas, first published a paper in Nature on his own version of a ninth planet called Planet X, back in 1985, and has now suggested that the hypothetical planet could be responsible for catastrophic comet showers all the way over here on Earth. 
So how does a planet that's hundreds of billions of kilometres away rain down death on Earth?
According to Whitmire's hypothesis, it’s a rather simple process. Basically, Planet X orbits the Sun like everything else in the Solar System. But every 27 million years, he says, it passes through the Kuiper belt, and dislodges a bunch of comets that come flying toward the Sun. Earth gets caught in this crossfire and, bam, mass extinction. 
Whitmire points to the fossil record, which shows some evidence that comet showers on Earth happen about every 26-27 million years. "In 1985, a look at the palaeontological record supported the idea of regular comet showers dating back 250 million years," the University of Arkansas explains. "Newer research shows evidence of such events dating as far back as 500 million years."
Not only would these comets hit Earth right in the face, they’d also burn up the closer they got to the Sun, therefore reducing the amount of light we receive. 
Back in 1985, a bunch of researchers were trying to understand why mass extinctions happen, with three separate hypotheses leading the way: the existence of a ninth planet; the existence of a sister Sun; or the vertical oscillations of the Sun were to blame. Over the past three decades, the latter two hypotheses have been disproven, while the search for Planet Nine has only gained momentum. 
Now, while the hypothesis makes sense on the face of things, we should point out that it has not been published, so it's more of a neat little concept that needs a whole lot of proper investigation. And, rather crucially, there is debate over how long the ninth planet's hypothetical orbit around the Sun actually is - which is at the very crux of Whitmire's argument.
As astronomer Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who is leading the new charge to find Planet Nine, told Discovery News, there's been debate over what the undiscovered, unproven ninth planet in our Solar System could actually be like.
Most significantly, while Whitmire's hypothetical Planet X has an orbit of 27 million years, the Planet Nine Brown and his colleagues are currently hunting down is much closer (relatively) to Earth, and has an orbit of 15,000 years. 
"Whitmire has been speculating for decades about a very distant very massive planet pushing comets around. It has to have an orbital period of something like 27 million years," Brown says. "While that idea may or may not make sense, it definitely has nothing to do with Planet Nine, which is much closer to the Sun and thus 'only' takes 15,000 years to go around."
"The evidence for Planet Nine says nothing about whether or not there is a more distant Planet X," he adds.
So before we can even begin to start blaming a ninth planet for our Earthly catastrophes, researchers actually need to prove its existence. But hopefully, as more and more institutions start searching for it, we will one day have definitive answer about the mysterious planet that may or may not be lingering just out of sight and ready to assault us with comets.
If supported by the evidence, Whitmire’s hypothesis could provide a greater insight into how other planets in our Solar System affect evolution here on Earth. 

Video:Citizen scientists capture video of large object crashing into Jupiter

Two amateur astronomers in different parts of the world captured what looks like an asteroid or comet impacting Jupiter on March 17.

The independent videos — captured by John Mckeon and Gerrit Kernbauer on March 17 — show something slamming into Jupiter on its right side. The Jovian impact — which was first reported by Phil Plait at Slate and confirmed by Mashable — looks like a small flash just above Jupiter's distinctive clouds before disappearing.

Two amateur astronomers in different parts of the world captured what looks like an asteroid or comet impacting Jupiter on March 17.

The independent videos — captured by John Mckeon and Gerrit Kernbauer on March 17 — show something slamming into Jupiter on its right side. The Jovian impact — which was first reported by Phil Plait at Slate and confirmed by Mashable — looks like a small flash just above Jupiter's distinctive clouds before disappearing.

The giant planet — the largest in our solar system — is bombarded by space rocks pretty regularly. 

For instance, Jupiter was hit by a series of comet fragments in 1994 when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and then slammed into the world, and that wasn't the only time Jupiter was hit with some solar system debris.

Since the Shoemaker-Levy 9 event, scientists have seen five other impacts at Jupiter, according to astronomer Heidi Hammel.

"Jupiter watchers have since seen a big impact site in 2009 subsequently imaged by Hubble, two bright-flash events in 2010, another bright-flash event in 2012, and now this bright-flash event in 2016," Hammel told Mashable.

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Hammel added that having both videos gives scientists confidence that Jupiter "was yet again the site of a cosmic collision." 

Scientists are now working on piecing together the size of the object that caused the bright flash to erupt from Jupiter. Researchers did calculations, as with previous impacts at Jupiter in 2010 and 2012, Hammel said, but they aren't yet sure of the size of the impactor for this event. 

"Those earlier flashes were probably caused by an object roughly 10 meters across, so this one might turn out to be about the same size," Hammel said. "Stay tuned. For comparison, we think Shoemaker-Levy 9 was probably a mile across before it broke up and crashed into Jupiter."

Citizen scientists like Mckeon and Kernbauer can leave a mark on space science with observations like these. 

"Amateur astronomers make fundamental contributions to astronomy research, and this recent observation of an impact on Jupiter is a perfect example of why," Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor at the Planetary Society, told Mashable

"Professional astronomers have only limited time on large telescopes, which means that they can take exquisitely detailed observations but can't spend long staring at one target in the sky; time on major telescopes is simply too valuable."

The internet has also changed the way amateur astronomers communicate their findings, spreading them far and wide. 

Plait put out a call on Twitter asking if anyone else caught sight of the Jupiter impact seen by Kernbauer on March 17. Other users responded with a link to the Mckeon video, which confirmed the discovery. 

"In this particular case, amateurs had webcams pointed at Jupiter for hours and so were able to gather enough data over a long period of time to fortuitously glimpse the impact," Lakdawalla said. 

Space enthusiasts also use discussion boards to post videos and ask questions about possible things they've seen during nighttime observations.

"Without the internet, forums, social media, communication between amateurs (and pros) worldwide would not be so effective. It took a few days to find a confirming video. One observer from Austria, one from Ireland, confirmed the impact within days," amateur astronomer Jan Hattenbach told Mashable. "Would not have happened in pre-internet days."


The bright flash on Jupiter seen in 2016. 


Neither Mckeon, based in Ireland, nor Kernbauer, who lives in Austria, were out to catch some kind of impact in action.

Both citizen scientists were peering through their telescopes to observe Jupiter on a relatively clear night. 

"The original purpose of the imaging session was to get this time-lapse, with a happy coincidence of the impact in the second last capture of the night," Mckeon said in a YouTube video description.


Japan's $273 million black hole-hunting satellite has broken up into 'multiple pieces'

hitomi satteliteJAXA

A satellite that was supposed to scrutinize some of the biggest secrets of the universe is nowhere to be found.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it has lost contact with its "Hitomi" satellite — a state-of-the-art X-ray observatory, developed in conjunction with NASA, to spy on energetic processes in space including black holes, massive galaxies, and exploding stars.

The Japanese space agency announced on March 27 that they had lost contact with the observatory on March 26, just a little more than a month after it was launched (February 17).

Members of the US Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), a military organization that identifies and tracks space debris near Earth, said five objects were drifting near the location of Hitomi at around the same time it lost communication with Earth, Nature reports.

This coincidence could mean space debris hit Hitomi, or that the craft broke up into several pieces in some other way.

About 40 JAXA technicians are currently scouring the skies to track down the expensive observatory.

Hitomi's mission was to help us better understand the structure of the universe by detecting and analyzing high-energy particles, which stream out of galaxy clusters, supernovae, and notoriously elusive black holes.

The craft was tasked with gathering data on how black holes develop and impact their surroundings, including the distortion of space-time during the mysterious "event horizon," or point of no return when a particle is irreparably lost to a black hole.

It also aimed to understand the creation and evolution of galaxy clusters, the birth of heavy elements, and the behavior of certain particles in extreme conditions.

The word "Hitomi" means "the pupil of the eye" — and we hope this eye hasn't gone dark for good.


Pavlof Volcano in Alaska sends ash spewing 20,000 feet

(CNN)A volcano eruption in Alaska sent ash 20,000 feet up in the air and prompted flight warnings, according to authorities.

Recently active volcanoes
22 photos: Recently active volcanoes

The Pavlof Volcano, located on the Aleutian Islands, began "erupting abruptly" Sunday afternoon, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. 

A volcano alert warning remained in effect early Monday morning, and the aviation warning color code remains red, its highest level.

Seismic activity was also reported after the quake.


Slooh telescope:Total Solar Eclipse Live from Indonesia starting watchvideo now.

happening! A total solar eclipse is going down in southeast Asia on March 9 (local time) and you can watch the phenomenon happen on March 8 thanks to this live stream. Check it out!

The sun will be completely blocked by the moon for just a few minutes in Indonesia and other parts of southeast Asia this week…and you don’t wanna miss it! Luckily, the rare event is being live streamed, so even if you’re not one of the lucky few to live in the specific area the total eclipse is taking place, you can still watch right here on March 8!


Hear the Amazing and Sinister Sounds of the Deepest Place in the Ocean

Listening to the Marianas trench is like staring into the abyss.

The Marianas Trench is the deepest part of the ocean. Its lowest point, Challenger Deep, is a nearly seven miles below the surface. It's a different world down there, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided to figure out what it sounds like. 
What they heard is ... kind of scary. Like the kind of thing that H.P. Lovecraft warned you about at the bottom of the ocean, when he wasn't being kind of racist. There are the sounds of the creatures, like this baleen whale call: 
But then there are the sounds of nature's fury, like the muffled magnitude 5 earthquake that sounds a lot like a rocket engine:
Then, of course, NOAA managed to get an intense juxtaposition of the two:
In an interview with Maddie Stone at Gizmodo, NOAA scientist Bob Dziak said he was surprised by the kinds of sounds from across the ocean heard at the trench, including typhoons on the surface and faraway whales, saying that the Challenger Deep resembled an echo chamber. Dziak said there are more plans to send acoustic equipment down there and listen in on the music of the abyss. 
Source: Gizmodo


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