A new, enormous planet may soon be discovered at the edge of the solar system, say two U.S. astrophysicists searching for proof of the celestial body's existence.
John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, created a mathematical model that shows a distant gas planet one to four times the mass of Jupiter could explain the patterns of comets in a particular region of the sky.
The potential new planet has been nicknamed Tyche after the Greek goddess believed to have influenced the fortune of cities.
Matese and Whitmire published a paper about it in the journal Icarus in November, predicting the planet's location orbiting the innermost region of the outer Oort cloud, a spherical shell of cometary bodies believed to surround the sun far beyond the orbit of Pluto.
The paper suggested evidence of the new planet would have been recorded by NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, launched in 2009, which is releasing its first batch of data in April.
The researchers told The Independent this week that they believe the data could reveal the new planet within two years.
However, astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog on Discover Magazine's website, said after reading the papers by Matese and Whitmire, he thought their data "were interesting but unconvincing."
Plait said the researchers' sample size was too small and the planet may not exist at all.
"What I want to see are observations of this planet," he wrote.
The solar system currently has eight known planets.
Pluto, formerly the ninth planet in the solar system, was demoted to a "dwarf planet" by International Astronomical Union in 2006, after the definition of a planet was changed.