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South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X Tracker
We feel radiation from the Sun when we go outside on a warm day. That warmth from the Sun is the infrared part of the solar radiation. Any object that is warmer than its surroundings will emit infrared radiation until it cools off to the same temperature as its surroundings. This telescope, then, must be looking for something warm in the southern skies while discounting other factors like reflectivity and radio emissions.
So what has all of this to do with the Planet X debates that refuse to die? What is the connection between this infrared telescope and the Planet X mystery? What is Planet X, or what could it be?
The most credible explanation so far talks about a failed star; you can best look at it as a little sister to the Sun. This little sister to the Sun is a body that was not heavy enough to start its own fusion process and become a star. Other than that, it has all the characteristics of the early Solar system. It is the central body of a ‘solar system’ of its own, radiating heat into its immediate surroundings. It is probably inside a rotating and gradually flattening disk of dust, where several larger bodies have already formed by gathering smaller bodies together. Estimates place the mass of this body at somewhere between 5 and 20 times that of Jupiter. The minimum mass for a star to form is estimated at about 50 times the mass of Jupiter.
Would Planet X or Nemesis be visible to astronomers if it were approaching the inner Solar system in its long-period orbit around the Sun? There is a fair chance that not many people would notice it at first. The dust cloud should be fairly dense closer to the body, but farther away from the body, it gradually thins out so that light from stars behind it would begin to pass through. However, the change in light intensity of a star being slowly obscured by this body would be so gradual that it could go undetected for a long period, because we only monitor about 3% of the sky at any one time.
Hidden like this, the body can sneak up fairly close to Earth and still go undetected by mainstream astronomy, the great masses of amateurs with backyard telescopes. As the body is relatively cool and dark, what little visible light it emits does not shine through its own dust cloud; or at least, it does not shine through yet. Its heat does however pass through this dust cloud; therefore, an infrared telescope should detect it much more easily.
This constitutes a perfectly logical reason for a telescope with adaptive optics to be put on the South Pole in a hurry. If you need to ‘see’ something that can best be seen from the South Pole and you want to track it all the time, indeed a space-based telescope is not as good an option; nor is Siberia. A telescope in orbit would be moving around Earth and possibly not be able to look at an object all the time. The same goes for a telescope in Siberia.
In addition to this, adaptive optics are also under development for visible light, another intriguing clue. Could it be that whatever is being tracked emits heat but not light, and several objects have been found around it that do not emit heat? In that case you would need a telescope that can observe both the visible and the infrared spectrum as accurately as possible. This makes the telescope more complex; then, a space-based telescope is not as good an option any more; its cost will increase quite strongly.
If a government knows that something is approaching and needs to monitor its approach in the sky with an infrared telescope, would they not put the telescope where they could get the best view? Of course they would! Nearly all that believe Planet X is approaching say it is coming from below the ecliptic. This belief alone gives the South Pole a decided edge over Siberia, and the complexity of observations to be done gives it an edge over a space-based telescope. The only decisive argument for this construction is to track something with a high priority, and that something is probably what we call Planet X.
Xena — The Hunt is On
Another celestial body located below the ecliptic that has the almost undivided attention of the astronomical society right now is recently discovered planetoid Xena. Xena has a strange characteristic that cannot currently be explained, and it is this characteristic that warrants a closer look.
The problem with that closer look, however, is that Xena is very far away, about 10 billion miles at the moment (97 AU). Not even Hubble can do very much at that distance, so an even more powerful instrument is needed to take a closer look at it.
NASA Hubble Mission, April 11, 2005
For the first time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has seen distinctly the "tenth planet," currently nicknamed "Xena," and found that it's only slightly larger than Pluto.
Because Xena is smaller than previously thought, but comparatively bright, it must be one of the most reflective objects in the solar system. The only object more reflective is Enceladus, a geologically active moon of Saturn whose surface is continuously recoated with highly reflective ice by active geysers.
Xena's bright reflectivity is
possibly due to fresh methane frost on its surface. The object may have had an atmosphere when it was closer to the
sun, but as it moved to its current location farther away this atmosphere would
have "frozen out," settling on the surface as frost.
The reason behind the closer look becomes apparent here. Xena is very bright, much brighter than it should be for a lifeless icy world. This brightness indicates that its surface needs to be renewed regularly, either by comet-like activity or by volcanism. Neither of those will likely occur at the distance from the Sun the planetoid normally has, so the reason for this brightness remains unclear for now. Or does it?
Below is a quote from an email that Andy Lloyd, author of “Dark Star” sent to Marshall Masters recently. In this mail, he touches upon the subject; he concludes that this unusual brightness of Xena must be the result of a periodic encounter of the little planetoid with a massive body in the outer regions of the Solar system. Could this massive body be known by the name of Planet X perhaps?
FR: Andy Lloyd
I’ve continued to argue that the companion is still present, waiting to be discovered. And now a piece of evidence has emerged which suggests this very possibility.
Oddly, it has a very, very bright and reflective surface. For an object, which always remains more distant than Pluto, this is highly irregular, and it has the astronomers baffled. Over time it should have become dusty and grey, rather than icy and white.
For some reason, its surface is being replenished over time. Yet it is too distant to undergo cometary activity, and too small to generate enough internal heat to boil out liquid from inside itself. The properties of Xena are just like a small moon orbiting around a massive gas giant. Yet Xena is on its own, in the cold expanse of the space beyond Pluto. So the image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope makes no sense.
Unless, that is, you allow for the presence of a massive object out there which Xena periodically encounters. Under those circumstances, the nature of its surface features becomes readily explainable: As Xena approaches what would have to be a Dark Star, it begins to act like a comet, boiling up inside and shedding water and other volatiles onto its surface and out into space. This would then account for its current bright appearance.
The reason why this moves us forward is that this process must be current and on going. A long-gone Dark Star could not account for the current high reflectivity of Xena’s surface. One must still be out there. The implications are staggering.
This question is another that scientists could possibly answer with a telescope that has the ability to see with Hubble quality or better in the infrared spectrum, using adaptive optics. If Xena has internal heat generation, something has to drive that process. Usually a changing gravitational field of a larger body provides that energy: many of the moons of the larger planets show volcanic activity due to tidal effects exerted on them by their mother planets. There is really only one possible candidate for this tidal effect on Xena: yes, Planet X. Still, this does not piece the puzzle together completely yet. There is another thing we need to look at.
On January 25, 1983 a satellite was launched into orbit in a joint project by the US, the UK and The Netherlands. The satellite was named IRAS. Its mission lasted for ten months; it was to perform a survey of the sky in the infrared wavelength region.
During its mission period, it made four images of 96% of the sky, at 12, 25, 60 and 100 micrometers wavelength. This way, it discovered hundreds of thousands of sources of radiation; many of them have still not been identified as of today.
After ten months, the satellite was shut down; the reason was that the coolant, superfluid helium, had run out. An infrared telescope on board a satellite needs to be cooled to very low temperatures, a few degrees above absolute minimum only. This cooling process uses the evaporation of helium, and that helium ran out in IRAS. The satellite then slowly heated and became useless; at least, that was the official explanation.
But did it really happen that way? There are techniques in use to cool equipment to very low temperatures without losing coolant to other than unwanted leaks. One such method is called adiabatic expansion. With this technique, a liquid is evaporating into a low-pressure environment; it becomes a vapor, extracting heat from its surroundings and it cools them that way.
If you pump this vapor out of the container it will warm up again outside and become a fluid again. Then, the pressure in the container will be lowered so that more liquid can evaporate, cooling it even further. The energy you put into the process goes into the extraction pumping. This energy can be generated by solar power. IRAS had solar panels for energy generation. The picture [taken from Wikipedia] shows those panels clearly.
It is therefore an enigma why this coolant had to be shed, causing the satellite to be shut down after ten months. But was it really shut down? According to John Maynard, a former CIA agent who provided Yowusa with technical advice during our early days, it was not shut down. He told us that IRAS was shut down to the public only, but imaging went on, specifically the imaging of one object they had found.