TECH

NASA: There Is 'Probably' No 'Nemesis' Death Star Beyond Pluto

10/03/2014 10:21 GMT | Updated 10/03/2014 10:59 GMT

Nasa has announced that there is almost certainly not a giant, dark 'Nemesis' star lurking at the edge of our Solar System.

"Probably".

It has long been theorised - though only by a fringe of the astronomy community - that a massive, unseen celestial body exists beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Known as 'Nemesis', or Planet X, the theories attempt to explain geological studies which suggest oddly regular mass extinctions on Earth.

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Above: A nearby star stands out in red in this image from the Second Generation Digitized Sky Survey.

The idea is that this large star or planet might occasionally rush through bands of comets at the edge of the solar system, and send them hurtling towards Earth.

It's not a widely-held belief, though. And now a full-sky sweep by the space agency's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has found "no evidence" that such a thing exists.

Nasa said it is now sure there is no object larger than Jupiter beyond Pluto to a distance of 26,000 'AU' (astronomical units) - where the distance to the Sun from Earth, or 93 million miles, is one AU.

"The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas giant planet, or a small, companion star," said Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University.

Nasa added:

"Previous speculations about this hypothesized body stemmed in part from geological studies that suggested a regular timing associated with mass extinctions on Earth. The idea was that a large planet or small star hidden in the farthest reaches of our solar system might periodically sweep through bands of outer comets, sending them flying toward our planet. The Planet X-based mass extinction theories were largely ruled out even prior to the new WISE study."

What it did find were more than 3000 stars and brown dwarfs within 500 light years of our planet. Several had been hiding 'in plain sight' but are no on Nasa's register.

"We're finding objects that were totally overlooked before," said Davy Kirkpatrick of Nasa's Infrared and Processing Analysis Center.